Three Dimensional Characters
Recently, I've tried to think about characters in three dimensions: the physical, the situational and the spiritual. At some point in the writing or revision process, I need to understand my characters from the inside out, and some aspect of all three dimensions has to appear on the page, although the degree to which it appears will vary depending on the role of the character in the story.
THE PHYSICAL: This category includes the character's appearance, but it is much more than just a rote recital of physical characteristics. The character's size, shape and level of physical endurance will impact how the character interacts with other people and reacts to a particular situation. A very tall character may use their size to intimidate, be self-conscious about their size, avoiding high heels and slouching, or may be completely comfortable in their skin. An athletic character will react differently than a character who is uncoordinated and out of shape. The character's hair, make-up and fashion choices come with their own sets of assumptions and can dictate how others react to the character. Does the character fit the stereotypes of their fashion choices, or do they surprise in some way. Mannerisms, nervous habits, and unique aspects of a character's physicality can be used to create unique characters. Comedians are especially good at using physicality to create characters. Think about the Saturday Night Live impersonations, which are often based on certain physical cues and verbal tics that are readily recognizable. While you don't necessarily want to take these traits to such a broad extreme, recognizing those aspects of physicality which make a person unique, can help inform your character development. Physical aspects of romance and sexuality would also fall within this dimension.
THE SITUATIONAL: This is the place where the character's history and present intersect. The character's living environment, family, wealth, and availability of opportunities factor here, as well as
THE SPIRITUAL: I like to think of this dimension as the character's innermost desires and emotional reactions to the situational and the physical. Does the girl who was raised on a farm that's been in her family for four generations feel an abiding loyalty and sense of belonging with the land? Does she long to break away, even if it means hurting her family? Does she feel trapped and isolated or self-sufficient and completely free? What does the character want? How does the character feel about friends, family or love? Is the character competitive or passive? Does he want to change any aspect of his life or does he want to avoid change at all costs? The internal factors, fears, desires and longing inform the character's choices and drive the internal arc of the narrative.