I attended the LDStorymakers conference a couple of weeks ago. It was fantastic. Our keynote speaker was Larry Brooks and if you are interested in writing fiction you'll want to check out his site www.storyfix..com. Excellent writing advice.
He talked about the three dimensions of character. I found his take on this fascinating, but even more important, his message about fiction has resonated with me in my real life.
The first dimension of character is how that character presents himself to the world. His habits, mannerisms, physical characteristics, ticks, anything that can be viewed by outsiders. As we people our books with characters we may be tempted to only use this dimension. A dimension that makes our characters feel flat. We focus on physical traits and habits, like biting fingernails, to try to communicate something about our characters. This is one-dimensional and while important in building our characters, we shouldn't stop here or we will fail to create fully-developed, realistic characters.
The second dimension is the reason for those habits, ticks, quirks, etc. What is the backstory? Why does the character always bite her nails when another woman enters the room? Why does the hero start to stutter when he's in front of a crowd? The backstory is what explains the outer characteristics we see in the first dimension.
The third, and most interesting, dimension is who the character is and what he does when under pressure. Is the character the same as he presents himself in the first dimension? If he's established himself as being cool and calm--never getting ruffled--as his public persona, what happens when his child is held at gunpoint? Is he still cool and calm or does he start screaming and yelling like a madman?
What the character does under stress reveals who he really is. And that's what hit me on a personal level. Am I the person I show myself to be when I'm stressed or upset or annoyed? Who am I really? I've thought about his over the last few weeks as situations have come up and I've reacted to those situations. Am I still the kind of person I want to be when put in a bad situation? I'd like to say that I am. But, I'm not. I don't react well to stress or things that are unexpected. I need to work on that and learning about the 3 dimensions of characters has helped me see myself more clearly.
Who says that learning about writing fiction is only helpful in our writing? Sometimes, it can be helpful in our real, day-to-day lives.