Writing One Dimensional Characters? Try Getting a Life!

By , August 8, 2011 12:00 am


Birthing a novel creates a new dimension of life challenges for aspiring authors.  Balancing family, friends, work, errands, and the occasional clogged garbage disposal means that free time is really writing/editing time.  But that’s okay for us.  I’m not ashamed to admit that my ideal “me time” consists of sitting in my recliner for hours straight with my laptop and a box of Cheerios.  (Total darkness is also my preference.)


"An Indie Life" by MMRule

"An Indie Life" by MMRule


Unfortunately, finding the time to write forces authors into a realm of other difficulties.  Sometimes the sacrifices we make to construct our work in progress leave us too caught up in our heads and not in the world where we and our characters exist.


As the result, the characters that we thought were so thrilling and titillating end up falling into clichés that we didn’t recognize until we wrote them.  They just look through their windshield and think for an entire chapter.  They have complicated dreams that are just like real life, except they’re not.  And worst of all, they sit around and stare in the mirror, realizing for the first time that they have brown hair.


You may wonder what is wrong with writing those scenes.  Yes, dreams are often exciting and symbolic.  And who doesn’t look in a mirror and study their old acne scars while reminiscing about past lovers?  The problem is that these moments of deep thought and self discovery aren’t interesting to read!  At the very best they don’t further the plot of a book, and at the worst they bore the reader and damage the author’s relationship with him or her.


If writers want to create interesting and thought provoking characters, they need to break away from their computers and remind themselves of what it means to live a life beyond feeding their kids or typing a memo about synergy before returning to their novel.  They should try their darndest to engage in some of the activities that even non-writers love, like volunteering, going to the zoo, and getting some exercise!


Taking a break to do some living will help a work in progress in wonderful ways.  You will remember to let your characters move away from their thoughts and into an interesting world where they can define themselves through their actions!  So, get a life and reap the richness that your experiences will bring your story.


How do you keep your characters fresh and active?  Share your method for writing interesting characters under the comments section for this post!


5 Responses to “Writing One Dimensional Characters? Try Getting a Life!”

  1. >And worst of all, they sit around and stare in the mirror, realizing for the first time that they have brown hair.

    That’s awesome. :)

    I don’t have a trick to building fleshed-out characters, but I have a starting place. Make sure they want something, and make sure it’s hard for them to get it. Passive characters are a drag, so just making sure your characters are engaged in the world around them is a helpful step.

    Other than that, I agree with your point here, that experience is necessary for writing. I’ve been amazed at how many apparently tangential experiences have made it into my own writing.

  2. Brian says:

    “They should try their darndest to engage in some of the activities that even non-writers love, like volunteering, going to the zoo, and getting some exercise!”

    I can’t remember the last time I did any of those things, unless you count the walking part of my commute as exercise. Even as a non-writer, I do think I understand where you’re coming from. I find it very easy to get lost in my own head. I just wind up with random thoughts popping into my Excel spreadsheets, as opposed to writing chapters based around them. I would imagine that it would be tough to always keep your characters active. I guess the problem starts to become apparent when your novel starts to read less like a story driven by your characters and more like a biography of your protagonist.

    A great read as always. Keep up the good work. This is a welcome addition to my Mondays.

    • MMRule says:

      Thanks for commenting, Brian! I’m happy to entertain non-writers like you :) I do see that some books (especially by indie authors) deviate from the plot and spend too many pages reading like a biography. Perhaps you should become an editor if you don’t want to try your hand at writing! ;-)

  3. PJ Kaiser says:

    Thanks for sending me the link to your post – i enjoyed it and can totally relate. As a mom of two small kids, i have precious little time for “living life” these days. My youngest has just started school (half days) so i might have some free time at some point in the future ;-)

    I have absolutely written naval-gazing stories … these are the hardest to muck through. They take so many rewrites before you find something interesting that you’re exhausted by the time you get there. Definitely some advice worth taking in this post :-) Thanks!!

    • MMRule says:

      Thanks for reading :) I’m always most inspired by the example of parents with young children. How you can make time to write is beyond me!

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