How to Write a Multi-Dimensional Lead Character

Characters, like flesh-and-blood people, should be made of more than a single dimension. Lead characters, in particular, need a personal life, a family life, a professional life, and a spiritual life. Not all of these levels should be given the same level of attention, but they should all be present.

The lead character should change in some way during the course of the story in at least one of those areas. He should become a better father, for example. Or make wiser career choices or make changes in his personal life. Whatever the change, it should be something that makes the journey worthwhile for the character. Unless you’re writing a tragedy, the change should always be for the better overall, even if parts of it are bittersweet.

In many cases, a character will experience changes on more than one level. Changes in one level often lead inevitably to changes on another level. One of those levels will always be primary to the story, but that doesn’t mean it must be the only change.

Take, for example, what Dr. Stanley Williams refers to as the Moment of Grace in his book, The Moral Premise. The moment of grace, according to Dr. Williams, is that moment when the character learns that the way he’s been doing things isn’t working and he needs to change his methods.

In his book, Write Your Novel From the Middle, James Scott Bell refers to this as a Mirror Moment—that point in the story at which the character takes a long hard look at the person he is or has become.

In both instances, the character learns something that requires a decision. They don’t have to make the decision right then, but they should become aware of the decision. In many cases, what they decide and how they come to the decision is what propels the rest of the story.

How to Write a Multi-Dimensional Lead Character

The First Moment of Realization

This decision is likely to happen primarily at one level first, but it has the potential to affect all four areas to some degree.

Lets say the moment happens in the lead character’s personal life, first. He or she suddenly becomes aware of the type of person they’ve become. He or she sees two clear choices before them. Change with the hope that things will improve, or remain the same and continue down the current path, for better or worse.

That moment of awareness—the moment of grace or mirror moment—leads to the realization that change needs to happen on a professional level as well.

Those two changes are likely to affect the character’s family life.

Or maybe the moment happens first on the spiritual level. A change at this level is very likely to affect changes at all the other levels, depending on the type of life the character has been living up to that point.

Change on All Levels

Wherever the first realization occurs—family, personal, professional or spiritual—it should produce changes at other levels, as mentioned above.

If it doesn’t, you run the risk of writing a one-dimensional character; a character who confronts himself on one level but compartmentalizes that confrontation so it doesn’t affect any other part of life.

Yes, there are people who do that.

And, yes, you can write a good book about such a character if the confrontation is significant enough to carry the full weight of the book.

But fiction is a lot like real life in that no part of life is completely isolated from the other parts. The various levels of our lives are interdependent. The various levels of your character’s life should also be interdependent.

It doesn’t matter where the initial realization happens first. That will vary from story to story and character to character.

But if you want to write a multi-dimensional character who is involved in a story that keeps readers turning pages to the end, the first change the character makes—or refuses to make—should lead to further changes and further challenges.

Take a look at your work in progress.

Does your lead character have a clear character arc? Can you identify the part of his or her life in which the change happens first? Can the character and/or story line be improved by reflecting that change in the other parts of the character’s life?

Take Away Value

The most memorable and compelling stories are stories of change. If you want to write powerful stories, a strong character arc is a must.

The best path to a strong character arc includes strong moments of internal confrontations and changes on multiple levels.

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Why Failure Is Awesome

2016-05-18 happy dance joyHow do you feel about failure?

I grew up believing that failure was not an option. You had to do stuff right the first time, every time, and it was better to do nothing at all, rather than try and fail. An attitude like this is obviously a massive road block for anyone who wants to be an author. There’s a lot to learn–from the actual writing of the books to the marketing that sells them. What to do about failure?

2016-05-18 Why Failure Is Awesome

Embracing Your Mistakes

2016-05-18 happy joy stars successFortunately for me, I didn’t truly believe in my heart of hearts that failure was a bad thing. Honestly, how realistic is it that you’ll be able to do everything perfectly the first time? Everybody does it wrong the first time. Well, nearly everybody. We can’t all be Nancy Drew, after all.

And in case you hadn’t noticed, failure is hard-wired into the success process. We try, we fail, we try again. That’s just how it works! And those who don’t try again are those who don’t reap the top successes.

But most importantly, I saw from my life experiences that I learned more from my mistakes than I did from my triumphs. Once I knew how to do something wrong, it was easier to figure out how to do it right.

Am I the only one who feels this way? Far from it! Read the inspiring stories from these other authors who also embraced the process of failure.

What Author-Publishers Can Learn from Their Mistakes

by Samantha Warren on the Alliance of Independent Authors website

Samantha had unexpected initial success, raking in $12,000 off an ad on Pixel of Ink. But, by her own admission, she took it for granted and didn’t continue her promotion efforts. Was she devastated? No! She picked herself up and tried again. Read more!

The Two BEST Reasons to Fail as a Writer

by Marcy McKay on The Write Practice

The creative process can involve trial-and-error, too, as Marcy McKay says in this post. “My books feel more like I’m assembling a jigsaw puzzle without the box top showing the final photo.” Who else can relate? (Raising hand!)

McKay draws examples from the book Creativity, Inc by Ed Catmull, president of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation. Catmull clearly embraces failure, as well. “Stop panicking that you’re doing it all wrong,” McKay says. “You’re not. Keep writing.” She gives two excellent reasons why you should fail. Read more!

Building a Business One F*** Up at a Time

featuring JB Glossinger on the Self Publishing Podcast 

2016-05-18 happy joy laugh smileI’ve included this one for those of you who prefer audio. (Though if you couldn’t tell from the title, I should advise you that there is explicit language!) Glossinger works for an hour every day, then plays golf. How did he get there? One failure at a time. From the show notes: “What’s the ratio of failure to success? 90/10: can you guess which is which?” Listen Now!


Now you tell us: How do you feel about failure? Do you feel any better about it now that you’ve seen a number of authors who actively embrace it?

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5 Things That May Be Blocking Your Writing

Last month, I wrote a couple of posts on losing your first love for writing and my journey to rediscovery. If you haven’t read those posts, take a minute now to do so. They will give you a little background for this post.

It’s been five weeks since I wrote the first of those two articles. I’ve started a new story and it’s making wonderful progress. That’s all I’m going to say about it (see #1 below), but I’m thrilled with the way things are going.

Since writing those two posts, I’ve come to realize that the quenching of my first love for writing didn’t happen overnight and that several things contributed to the process. The sad truth is that I’ve already seen them at work in my writing life. Even sadder; I’ve fallen victim to some of them already!

None of the things I’m about to list are bad in and of themselves. They may work wonders for you. If so, wonderful!

But they can be hindrances for others of us. Hence, this post.

5 Things That May Be Blocking Your Writing

1. Too much talking

talk-talk-talkAs in, too much talking about an idea or a story before it’s written. For me, that energy is best spent hammering out words and pages. Writing the story instead of talking about it.

So what should you do when someone asks what you’re working on?

I’ve started saying, “I’m working on a new story about….” and then I throw out my single-sentence summary if I have one. If I don’t, I stick with the bare bones.

“I’m working on a new mystery” or “I’m working on a new political thriller”. That’s about all most people are really interested in anyway.

2. Too much planning

mapI know. I know. I’ve written dozens of posts on the value of pre-planning. You know what? Pre-planning is great…. For those writers who actually benefit from it.

As much as I love pre-planning, it actually does more harm to my stories than good.

How can that be?

If I spend a week writing a long narrative summary for a story, my mind thinks the story is finished. Zip goes the energy for that idea. I may as well bury that story ’cause my brain is salivating for a new idea.

This was an especially painful realization because I have a dozen or more fully summarized—in long form—stories.

3. Too much journaling

I first started keeping a writing journal in 1999, after reading a book in which Lawrence Block recommended keeping a writing journal. But his idea of what a writing journal is and my version of a writing journal are not the same.

To Lawrence Block, a writing journal is where writers record new ideas, personal experiences that might play a part in a book, and things like that. That’s how my writing journal-life started.

But within a year or two, my writing journal started reading like a personal diary.

Then I started keeping a journal for every story and they started reading like a personal diary. There were still character and plot questions in the journal, but it was more about what was going wrong with a story than with figuring out how to write the story. Big. Difference.

And I’ve discovered in looking back over some of those journals that expressing those doubts, fears, and discouragements on paper didn’t purge them from my system. It nurtured them. Made them grow and multiply.

So keep a writing journal for ideas and experiences.

Everything else needs to be dealt with in some other way.

Like, say, fiction?

That brings me to the next point.

4. Too much navel gazing

The first time I used this phrase with Danielle, she didn’t know what I was talking about. So I suppose I should define what I mean.

The term navel gazing is another way to describe self-analysis. Especially excessive self-analysis. You know. As in sitting around with your chin on your chest, thinking about whatever’s wrong or going wrong or could go wrong.

When it comes to writing, this is one of those things that can completely derail a story or a writer. If you happen to be of a naturally melancholy nature—as I am—it’s especially counterproductive.

There comes a time in every writer’s life when he or she needs to sit down and analyze what’s going right and wrong with a story, but don’t let that process take over your writing life.

Because there also comes a time in every story when you have to throw your self-analysis out the window and write with abandon.

5.Too much time spent considering plot options or story questions

One of the things I’m having to relearn is that it’s okay to make a note in a manuscript if a question arises. If a character does something and I wonder why, it really is okay to ask the question in the manuscript itself.

What isn’t okay—for me at any rate—is shutting down writing to brainstorm all those possibilities. As much as I enjoy brainstorming, there is a time and place for it. For me, that is not  in the middle of the first draft.

So leave a note either as a footnote or insert a comment posing the question or suggesting a follow up scene, then let it go.

I like putting those notes into the manuscript itself so they’re there when it comes time to edit and revise.

So that’s my Top Five list of Writing Obstacles. Which ones resonate with you?

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Power Through Three First Drafts

2016-05-11 book write writing magnifying glassYou’re doing it. You’re writing your first novel. You’re determined to make the reality as shining as the concept. So you fret over every word. Every character. Every plot point. You pelt your writer’s groups with questions, begging for advice. You go back a hundred times and change everything. And you end up laboring for five years over your first book.

Writers who are still early in their journey tend to get hung up on their first books. They’re not quite sure yet what they’re doing, and they’re devastated when the story that ends up on paper isn’t as epic as the way it existed in their mind. What’s going wrong?

2016-05-11 Power Through Three First Drafts

First Draft Sucks

2016-05-11 typewriter writing write keyboardPart of what’s so hard about being a writer is that, before your epic story becomes reality, you have to write this monstrous thing called first draft. And when you’ve never written a book before, first draft is daunting. Terrifying. First draft sucks. And it doesn’t matter if it’s your first book or your twentieth. First draft is not about writing epic fiction. It’s about puking your ideas out onto paper.

I don’t know why first drafts have to be so horrible, but they are for the vast majority of authors. So if this is your first novel, the easiest thing you can do is accept that your first attempt at writing your epic story is going to fall far short of your visions for it.

So, should you fret over every word, character, and plot point? No. You should accept that first draft sucks and puke it up onto paper. You can iron out each and every one of those horrible problems in subsequent drafts.

Three First Drafts

2016-05-11 three books writing write four books pen readingBut how can you swallow your fears of your finished book being as terrible as your first draft? Here’s an idea. Power through your first book. Write every day. Don’t look back. Don’t ask yourself whether the writing is worth a darn.

Then write a completely different book. Power through it. Write every day. Don’t look back. Don’t ask yourself whether the writing is worth a darn.

Then write another one.

By this time, you’ll probably realize that first draft simply sucks. And that’s okay, because it’s meant to.

THEN go back and rewrite your first book. Polish it up all pretty. Submit it to your critique group. Give it to trusted friends and family. Offer it to beta readers. And when you’ve re-written it a dozen times, hire an editor.

Then publish it.

Then go back and do the same with your second book. Then your third.

This, Too, Shall Pass

2015-06-08 WriterBy this time, here’s what I think you’ll have learned: First draft is a brief, passing thing. Everything you wrote in first draft can be upturned in second, third, or fourth. Nothing is set in stone until the ink has dried on the page.

While you’re writing first draft, and you’re tempted to halt and submit a life-and-death question to your writing group–STOP. Guess what? It does not matter. Why? Because it’s first draft! You should be writing crap. Absolute crap. Eventually you’ll realize that first draft really doesn’t matter. It’s only the final draft that needs to read well.


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