Monday, June 24, 2013

Multi-Dimensional Characters: Why They're Important and How You Create Them

Why multi-dimensional characters are important in every cozy mystery: 

Is any book a great book without multi-dimensional characters?

Some of the most-loved cozy mysteries of all time, including Death of a Kitchen Diva, Death of a Country Fried Redneck, Pies and Prejudice, and, of course, Agatha Christie's wonderful Miss Marple series, all have unforgettably delightful characters with personalities so fleshed out it's like knowing them in real life. Part of what makes these lovely mysteries so memorable is the fact that they all contain multi-dimensional characters.

That is one of the biggest reasons why well-developed characters are important--memorability. If a book is forgotten shortly after it's read, there's no point to writing it in the first place. But with exciting characters, a book is much easier to remember, and it becomes important to not only the author but the reader also.

How multi-dimensional characters can be created:

The best way to create a multi-dimensional character is to brainstorm. That's one of the easiest things about writing itself--the process of brainstorming. Here are some questions I use personally to guide my brainstorming about characters:

  • Who are some of the most memorable people I know? How do they impact me? What is it about their personality that makes them so powerful?
  • What makes some of my favorite celebrities famous?
  • What are the qualities I look for in a friend? 
  • What emotion do I want to evoke in my readers? Do I want to make them laugh, cry, or stay on the edge of their seats? What kind of characters can I create to achieve this effect?
Using these questions usually produces some great character traits. For me, it's also easier when I create these things about a character:
  • A strong, interesting backstory. Since Felicia has been allergic to bumblebees as a child, and she got stung by one when she was on a second grade field trip and hates them ever since, when she sees a bumblebee during a crucial interview with the sleuth, she freaks out. While the sleuth thinks this is because Felicia may be guilty, readers know Felicia is allergic to bumblebees. The layers this gives to the story are undeniably intriguing.
  • A hobby other than their job. Referring to our earlier example, Felicia, who's allergic to bumblebees, has a huge love of photography, and she takes photos and sells them to several publications in her spare time.
  • A unique job. While it's true that most people actually have quite boring jobs, that's what makes a story a story--its uniqueness, freshness, and memorability. Felicia, the allergic photographer, is a professional knockoff creator and has mastered the art of creating fake Dolce & Gabbana bags. 
  • A quality that makes the character outrageously funny. True, not every cozy mystery is funny--but when has humor ever gone wrong? What you didn't know about Felicia until now is that she's actually pushing eighty, and oh: aside from creating knockoffs and taking nature pictures, she has a gigantic love for making fart jokes. 
Now I have a decently fleshed out character whose childhood I know like the back of my hand, and whose several character traits make her definitely a memorable woman. 

Try comparing Felicia to a thirty-year-old accountant with a two-story house and one boy and one girl who likes to play golf in his spare time. 

See the difference? Multi-dimensional characters can completely change a story in the best way possible.


  1. Maureen BernstandtJune 24, 2013 at 3:55 PM

    I read your last post also but didn't get the time to comment, so here I am to check out this one! :D This was SO helpful. I love the idea of a professional knockoff creator. And when I found she was pushing eighty, I just about bursted with laughter. Now you have me curious about this character! I hope you'll be publishing a novel with Felicia as your sleuth, because I would love to read about her. :)


    1. Thanks so much, Maureen! Actually, Felicia was totally an on-the-spot character that I made up while writing the post. A few characteristics had been bouncing around in my brain for a while, but mostly, she was the result of an impulsive writer, LOL. I'm glad she inspired you! Hopefullly, she'll be featuring in one of my cozies soon.


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