How to escape the one-dimensional character trap in fiction writing

It amazes me that in this day, we still look upon individuals and conclude a one-dimensional experience about them even if they are telling us with their actions and words everything to the contrary.

The same can apply to our stories. When writing fiction our characters represent a culture, a type, an experience.  And even though we can never represent all faces of that culture or experience we can ensure that our characters are multidimensional and that we have not short-changed them as we describe who they are.

I remember when the movie, Boyz n the Hood came out in the ‘80s I was working at a bank and a  co-worker said to me: “Oh, my god, I had no idea.” I guess she was under some delusion that I was silently suffering in a violent, impoverished environment while everyday coming into work to process expense reports for a living as a way to alleviate the pain of my miserable existence (The truth was, I was as shocked by the depictions in the movie as she).



And yet I think she missed something even in that particular movie. Although there was an obvious theme of the injustices on young, African-American young men, there was so much more. Even within that subculture there were various dynamics and experiences and even within the same experience there was a different impact on each person. There is no one voice. There is no one experience. Even as two individuals gaze at the moon, each will see something different, each will reflect on his or her own connection to it. It is what makes us as humans so wonderfully amazing.

As you are telling your story I encourage you to ask the “what if”. Try looking at your story from various angles. Try to write against type. Add a new dimension to your character, perhaps one you haven’t seen or read about before. Add the “what if” element and see where it takes you. Perhaps it will be ridiculous. Or perhaps it will allow your fiction to speak to a broader audience. You may even learn something new. Remember, we are always growing, constantly discovering, forever seeking.

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