I don't know any writer who doesn't want to be a breakout writer. I know I do. That's why I'm on a breakout writer's journey using Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass.

This month I'm summarizing Chapter Two, titled "Multidimensional Characters." Maass says: "One-dimensional characters hold limited interest for us because they are limited as human beings. They lack the complexity that makes real-life people so fascinating. In well-constructed fiction, a multidimensional character will keep us guessing."

I recently figured out the number one reason I stop reading a book, even a well-written one, is that I know what's going to happen. The book has no surprises for me. Now I realize why there are no surprises. Their characters don't have enough dimensions.

Maass uses Artemis Fowl in Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer as an example. Artemis is a 12-year-old diabolical criminal mastermind whose mother is mentally and physically ill and whose father is missing. Maass says, "Artemis is trying to deny his longing for his father and his grief over his mother's condition, but Colfer makes sure that his readers do not miss them."

Later, when Artemis captures a fairy, he feels guilty about her discomfort. He's still intent on extorting the fairy gold, but now the reader won't be sure what he'll do.

In my wip, a tough secondary character, whose ugly face scares small children, has adopted two dogs. One is missing a leg and one an eye. They've become his family. That's one of several ways I show his multidimensional character.

An exercise Maass gives in the back of the chapter is to find your progonist's defining quality and apply the opposite of that quality to the protagonist. The example I gave for my character is toughness and gentleness. Opposites.

Can you think of a defining quality and its opposite for any of your characters? Or are there other multidimensional qualities you've given your characters?

19 comments

  1. Judy // April 15, 2009 at 8:04 AM  

    Love these reminders Edie! Thanks for the post! Good luck with your writing!

  2. Jianne Carlo // April 15, 2009 at 8:12 AM  

    Great informatiion. Even though you may have read it before, re-reading anything by Maas makes you re-think your current work.

    Thanks Edie

    Jianne

  3. Edie // April 15, 2009 at 8:29 AM  

    Judy, thanks for the good luck. I'm needing it. lol

    Right back at you!

  4. Edie // April 15, 2009 at 8:30 AM  

    Jianne, that's so true. I think I have this month's lesson in my subconscious, but I need the reinforcement so I don't slip back into my old ways.

  5. Cynthia Eden // April 15, 2009 at 12:30 PM  

    Edie, I love these posts! They always make me think of ways to improve my writing.

  6. Edie // April 15, 2009 at 2:40 PM  

    Cindy, your writing is already pretty damn good. But I'm always looking for ways to improve mine, too.

  7. Leigh Russell // April 15, 2009 at 4:50 PM  

    Sorry for the ignorance, but what is a 'break out writer'? Great blog. Please drop by my blog sometime so I can find yours again. I'm not very good at finding my way around the blogosphere. The only thing I can do is write!

  8. Barbara Monajem // April 15, 2009 at 5:56 PM  

    Most of my characters start out trying to be something they're not -- indifferent when they want to be passionate, unforgiving and uncaring when they long to help others, flighty and flirtatious to hide a deep-seated desire for permanence, etc.

    I'm reading another writing book right now - Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder. It's about writing screenplays, but a lot of the same principles apply to novels. I'm not much of a movie-goer, but Snyder's book may well turn me into one.

  9. Edie // April 15, 2009 at 6:13 PM  

    The only thing I can do is write!Leigh, that's the best thing a writer should do.

    A breakout novel is one that stands out from the other books and succeeds.

  10. Edie // April 15, 2009 at 6:16 PM  

    Most of my characters start out trying to be something they're notBarbara, your characters must be complex. Great idea!

    I think Save the Cat is a great book, too. It's on my keeper shelf along with Donald Maass's workbook and Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King.

  11. Mary Ricksen // April 15, 2009 at 6:35 PM  

    I gotta get this book!The more I learn, hopefully)(, the better I get at this.
    The best of luck with your writing Edie! Don't we all need that.

  12. Edie // April 15, 2009 at 6:48 PM  

    Mary, you'll get a lot out of this book. It will really make you dig deeper.

    Thanks for the best of luck! Right back at you. :)

  13. Scarlet Pumpernickel // April 15, 2009 at 7:41 PM  

    Edie, welcome back! We're glad you're here with us to dicuss Maas and characterization. Interesting post, will have to think on the multidimentional factors of my characters.

    Scarlet

  14. Arkansas Cyndi // April 15, 2009 at 7:49 PM  

    Sorry I'm late, Edie. I've been out mowing the yard!

    My protag is a female physician, so she's smart and caring. But I can't have "smart" and dumb as opposite EXCEPT can't I? Can't she be less than "smart" at say cooking? Maybe competent v incompetent. She is competent at medicine but incompetent at cooking. Is that what you mean?

  15. Edie // April 15, 2009 at 8:10 PM  

    Scarlet, thanks for the welcome. I'm writing a scene with another secondary character and I'm seeing two sides of her. I didn't do it with the book in mind. I just did it because it worked. It's good to know I did this naturally.

  16. Edie // April 15, 2009 at 8:18 PM  

    Cyndi, I think incompetency at cooking could make her endearing. So, yes, that is another face to your character.

    It's like Indiana Jones. He was brave and confident--except when he saw a snake. Or was thrown into a snake pit.

    Didn't that weakness make him seem like a real person? Someone we could connect to? And isn't that snake pit scene one we remember about the first movie?

  17. Mary Marvella // April 15, 2009 at 10:29 PM  

    How thought provoking, but then Edie always makes me think!

    At the moment I can barely think. Let's all "Break Out". We'll leave the rest of the pack behind to eat our dust.

  18. Edie // April 15, 2009 at 11:58 PM  

    Let's all "Break Out". We'll leave the rest of the pack behind to eat our dust.Mary, that sounds good to me. You have the best ideas!

  19. Michelle // April 18, 2009 at 1:56 AM  

    Great blog, as always, Edie. I love Maass, and I'm about to dive into him again, as I revise my book. I always go back and read him again, I always see something I missed before.