Two Dimensional Personality Definition Essay

2D and 3D characters


Disciplines > Storytelling > Characters > 2D and 3D characters

The 2D character | The 3D character | 2D vs. 3D | See also


The characters that appear in stories are sometimes described as 'two dimensional' or 'three-dimensional' (2D or 3D). The metaphor is that of reality, that a three-dimensional character is somehow more realistic, whilst a two-dimensional person is flat and relatively lifeless.

The 2D character

The two-dimensional character is simple and unexplained. They appear and they do things, yet you do not know them as people.

Stories can get away with 2D minor characters, but if major characters are 2D the whole story will fall flat and lack credibility.

We pass many 2D characters in the street every day, yet some people we can tell in a moment are much more than that...

The 3D character

The three-dimensional character is first of all believable. The appear as credible people who you might know. Like humans, they have flaws and failings. They are individual and also seek to relate to others.

The trick of creating a 3D character is to add detail that is not strictly necessary for the plot, yet which helps to create a sense of reality. The critical trick in this is to do it without losing the reader, who will quickly get bored if you go too much and too quickly into character development.

Just as you discover attributes about your friends across the time that you know them, so also can a character develop across a story. If you are writing a whole series, then they can develop further.

Just because a character appears briefly in a story, it does not mean they cannot tell a story of their own. Even by the way they dress, much can be told, from high fashion to down-and-out rags. When good actors appear in small and cameo roles they can easily steal the show with masterful demonstration of all three dimensions.

2D vs. 3D

Here is a table that contrasts typical differences between 2D and 3D characters.


Fits neatly in storyHas own story
No historyHas a unique past
Often non-socialOften social


See also


No matter how interesting or innovative your writing might be, a story without three-dimensional characters can quickly fall flat. There are many techniques you can use to add that extra spark to your characters and give them unique qualities that will set them apart from the rest.

Try these five methods for creating three-dimensional characters:

1. Allow for “out of character” characterization.

Don’t limit your characters to a certain set of behaviors so that your shy character is ALWAYS shy, or your outspoken character is ALWAYS loud. Instead, be open to unexpected character traits. Maybe your straitlaced protagonist dances on tables when he has a few drinks. Or perhaps your bossy heroine gets tongue-tied around her mother. What makes people (and characters) so interesting is how unexpected their behaviors or reactions can be. Ask yourself: Are your characters surprising you with their quirks?

2. Give them a sense of grace, destiny, or belief.

Allow your character to feel like he or she has a greater purpose in life. Most people search for truth and purpose in their own lives, so it is important to give your character a similar sensibility. For example, the woman who has just been fired from her job could find new employment in a field she’s never considered, and maybe this opportunity is just what she’s needed. From there, you can decide whether or not your character’s dreams or beliefs will benefit his or her inner growth and development. (Tip: You can tie this into the above method, so that your meek main character may follow his or her dreams of crime-fighting to take karate lessons and eventually become a ninja—hey, we did say “dreams”!)

3. Pair conflicting emotions.

Human beings are naturally conflicted in the emotions department. Why not translate that reality to your characters? Try pairing your character’s strong belief in a particular ideal with some small cloud of doubt that slowly eats away at his or her perspective.

For example: Jon was certain that his girlfriend Dianne was just as much in love with him as he was with her. But ever since Vincent mentioned in passing to him that he’d seen her talking with someone on her balcony late at night, Jon couldn’t help but feel a modicum of insecurity every time he kissed her.

4. Use a character’s physical appearance as an expression of inner feelings.

There is a superb literary device known as pathetic fallacy, which uses the outside world to express the inner, and sometimes hidden, emotions of key characters. Try applying this to your character’s physical appearance. Say your main character is struggling with severe depression; he or she may be showing signs of weight loss, disheveled hair, or fatigue. Or maybe your MC is intensely excited; express this by giving his or her cheeks a rosy glow or an impeccable wardrobe to suit his or her pleasant mood. Using physical characteristics to reflect inner emotions will allow you to remind the reader of certain important aspects of a character’s mental state in a more subtle manner, so you don’t overuse internal dialogue or omniscient narration.

5. Draw from your own experiences.

To make a character three-dimensional is to make him or her more believable. What better way to place your character firmly in reality than by using your own life experiences to influence your character’s? Sprinkle your creative narrative with elements of reality so that you allow yourself some distance between your real life and your writing. Maintaining a buffer will allow your work to be accessible to a much wider audience. If your character’s parakeet dies, you can channel your memories of your hamster’s death. The details of the pet species are not important; the human experience of losing a beloved pet can still be transferred to your writing.

Remember: Whether writing fiction or nonfiction, you are writing creatively. By following these five simple guidelines, your characters will develop into more dynamic, three-dimensional entities who will not only add believability to your work, but wider appeal as well.

Photo by ronny-andre

QUESTION: Which of these strategies do you use the most, and how has your writing improved as a result?


Ronnie L. Smith, President of Writer’s Relief, Inc., an author’s submission service that helps creative writers get published by targeting their poems, essays, short stories, and books to the best-suited literary agents or editors of literary journals.

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