How to Create Dimensional Characters—Beyond the Wound & Into the Blind Spot

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Today, we’re going to explore an extension of the WOUND. The BLIND SPOT. There are no perfect personalities. All great character traits possess a blind spot. The loyal person is a wonderful friend, but can be naive and taken advantage of.

The take-charge Alpha leader can make a team successful, but also inadvertently tromp over feelings or even fail to realize that others have great ideas, too. Maybe even BETTER ideas.

A super caring, nurturing personality can be an enabler or maybe even ignore close relationships to take care of strangers. Someone who is great with money can end up a miser. A person with a fantastic work ethic can become a workaholic.

Y’all get the gist.

Often the antagonist (Big Boss Troublemaker) is a mirror of the protagonist, especially in the beginning of the story.

To use an example from a movie we have likely all seen. In Top Gun, what makes Maverick the best pilot is his complete lack of fear. He has the cajones to do what other pilots wouldn’t ever consider.

He’s driven by his wound, the lie about his father. This has made him one of the best pilots (trying to overcome his tainted history and impress a ghost) but he’s missed the lesson on how to be part of a team.

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Yes, maybe breaking all the rules makes you “the best”, but it can get others killed. It isn’t all about HIM.

This is why when I refer to “the antagonist” I prefer my made-up term Big Boss Troublemaker. The antagonist isn’t always “bad.” The antagonist is simply the person responsible for creating the core story problem.

Iceman isn’t a bad guy. He isn’t evil with a plan to take over the world or infiltrate the Top Gun school as a sleeper terrorist.

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He’s simply a by-the-book fighter pilot who believes Maverick shouldn’t be there. He loathes Maverick because he thinks he’s a danger to himself and others (and, frankly, he has a very valid point).

The plot provides the crucible. Maverick butts heads with Iceman over and over in a um, man-part-measuring contest. But what happens when Maverick loses Goose? Crisis.

A hard event (PLOT) has now forced Maverick to face the truth about himself. For the first time, he SEES the blind spot Iceman and others have been pointing out (which has been the core source of conflict). This loss forces him to go searching for answers deeper than buzzing the tower.

He finally recognizes others might actually have a point.

The beauty of this movie and why it’s remained so timeless (aside from hot guys in Navy dress) is it’s a movie exploring people. Real, broken, hurting people blind to who they really are. By story’s end? Everybody arcs.

Maverick learns there are other people in the sky besides HIM and that he is part of a TEAM. Iceman lightens up and recognizes that Maverick, too, has a point. Sometimes one just has to toss out the rulebook.

Thus, when creating characters in any story, to deepen them, we need to KNOW them. What DRIVES THEM? How would they react according to their past, their wounds and their blind spot?

As a writing exercise, take a scenario. Maybe an attempted mugging. How would different characters react?

For instance, when I was in college, I taught Jui-Jitsu during the day and sold papers in the evening. One dark winter night a drunk tried to mug me in a dark apartment complex and take my hard case briefcase.

Because of MY background, growing up powerless and determined to be in CONTROL, I’d taken years of martial arts. Also, when I was eight, I witnessed my 6’8″ male family member raise his hand to hit my mom while she was cooking….and she beat his a$$ out the front door wielding a mad hot cast iron skillet.

This left a mark (though likely more on said family member).

Thus, 12 years later when a MUCH larger drunk came up behind and tried to mug ME, he got beaten heartily with a briefcase and then chased until I lost him.

But why did I fight, not just hand over the briefcase?

I’d always been POOR. I was very poor in college and had worked long hours to buy a really nice briefcase in hopes of landing a better job than selling and delivering papers. There was no money in the case. I could have handed it over but because of MY wounds, the briefcase was more than a briefcase.

Clearly my BLIND SPOT is I have an alligator mouth and a pekinese @$$. I could have lost and ended up hurt or dead.

But what about a person with a different background? A different wound? A different blind spot?

What if the person mugged was a trust fund baby who could easily buy another briefcase? Or a person who’d been beaten badly in formative years and would do anything to avoid experiencing that pain? What if the person was elderly? There are a lot of variables that make a VERY rich palette to create characters with LIFE.

Think of your own life and personality? What is your greatest strength? How does it create your greatest weakness? What is YOUR blind spot. Play a little armchair psychiatrist and what you find might be really interesting 😉 . Feel free to share about you or even your favorite characters you’ve read or even written.

Remember! Due to popular demand I am running my Your Story in a Sentence class in a little over a week and participants have their log lines shredded and rebuilt and made agent-ready. Log-lines are crucial because if we don’t know what our book is about? How are we going to finish it? Revise it? Pitch it? Sell it?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of AUGUST, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

July’s Winner is Aurora Jean Alexander. Please send your 5000 word WORD document to kristen at wana intl dot com. CONGRATULATIONS!

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook


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    • cjlehi on August 6, 2015 at 9:26 am
    • Reply

    I have absolutely no idea how you have time to generate this much fantastic content, but seriously, my deepest thanks. Your analyses never fail to make me think critically of my own writing, and notice the good things (and, let’s face it, the bad things) in my pieces and others’. You’re a gift.

  1. Reblogged this on Amy Reece and commented:
    More great thoughts on character development!

  2. Thanks a very useful article I’m currently struggling with making my main character more rounded.

  3. Sometimes a relatively meek or mild mannered character has had enough and the wino comes at him/her at the wrong time. Or they were teased a bit in high school and found out that when hey stood up for themselves, the bully retreated – so when the drunk came up they reverted back to what had worked in the past.

    It almost doesn’t matter, as long as there’s enough added to explain it – without creating a huge unnecessary back story. Balance is key.

    I remember Clint Eastwood discussing “editing” a scene for one of his old westerns. The script called for a huge info-dump back story explaining why he would risk his life to save this family of strangers because he was paying forward a kindness (and act of heroism) from when his own house had been raided and burned as a child. It was a big soliloquoy – very un-Clint like, too, and he saw that his character wouldn’t divulge so much as The man With No Name, a strong silent type. He changed the explanation to “Somebody helped me once.” A pithy, in-character response completely fitting with the role.

    Each of Kristen’s examples of a terrific display of information and balance. Well done!

    1. The Eastwood line reminds me of this exchange:
      CHARACTER: What was your childhood like?
      PROTAGONIST: Short.

      Less is more.

  4. Your posts are always so informative!

  5. Reblogged this on authorkdrose and commented:
    The Always Informative Kristen Lamb

  6. Reblogged this on Chronicles of a Nerd and commented:
    Couldn’t have said it better myself!

  7. I’ve been following this blog for months and it’s about time I buy your book. Pride and thinking I can figure it out myself have held me back. Pride’s a useless b!tch.

  8. I like the terminology you used in this post. Kudos.

  9. Useful! I’m struggling a bit with a too-perfect protagonist. I’ll give a lot of thought about making him resist the ideas of other people. His sidekick is more hang-loose and very likely to think independently. Conflict!!

  10. Reblogged this on amiecus curiae and commented:
    Fantastic Article on Creating Characters.

  11. Oh man. When I was leaving work (exactly two and a half hours ago, I was wearing aviator sunglasses (not to look cool, but to keep the sun out of my eyes) and headphones (again not to look cool, but to listen to my tunes) and one of my co-workers said (I had to lift my headphones off to hear what she was saying to me) “You look like you’re on the highway to the DANGER ZONE!” I laughed, because it was funny, but then I had that song stuck in my head, in spite of whatever music was playing on my iPod. I had pretty much just managed to forget about it, then I come across this, albeit very well written and very poignant) blog. Thank you. 😉

  12. Reblogged this on Lenora's Culture Center and Foray into History.

  13. You gave me much to think about. My protagonist has some “luggage,” but I need to explore more ways of using it.

  14. This is the key, really. Once you know what drives your characters, you can drive them into each other at high speed, and the story practically writes itself. If only it was as easy to do as to write about 🙁

  15. Reblogged this on Mystery and Romance.

  16. Reblogged this on Mari Christie and commented:
    Great post on character development!

  17. Thanks for this. Lots of good food for thought.

  18. I don’t know what my greatest strength is but I am working on knowing when to give and when to receive.

  19. Thanks Kristen. Great post per usual.

  20. Great post, my blind spot is definitely family because the love I have for them opens me up for being used and un-appreciative

  21. My Blindspot is probably boring, but not wanting to be embarrassed would be it.

  22. Reblogged this on MorgEn Bailey's Writing Blog and commented:
    A very interesting take on a well-worn topic.

  23. Hi Kristen!
    Off-topic but: I’ve just been reading James Scott Bell’s revision book and he mentions the idea of the writer’s mission statement. What’s your take on the subject? I’d love to know!

  24. I must admit reading through this has been rewarding. It’s interesting in many ways.

  25. Reblogged this on Shaven Wookiee.

  26. Reblogged this on Writer's Treasure Chest and commented:
    Kristen Lamb, excellent writer and teacher has created a blog post which is not only entertaining, but teaching a very interesting and important lesson about the creation of characters.

    1. Did you see you won the 20 pages? 😀

      1. Oh! This is fantastic!! Thank you so much!! You’re going to hear from me within the next few days! 🙂 I’m so excited!

  27. I think my greatest weakness is my self-doubt. I think I could be a very successful writer if I didn’t doubt my ability so much. My greatest strength is my talent…unfortunately the two clash 🙁

    Maybe one day my strength will conquer my weakness 🙂

    Thank you for your wisdom,

  28. I’m loving this series. Taking little mental notes and tucking them away to look at while I’m writing. Thanks so much!

  29. Although I am glad you were not hurt, I never understand when people allow themselves to be victimized and go along with what a mugger, robber, rapist, (etc), says.I had a friend who was nearly kidnapped by a serial rapist-killer, she screamed and got away with minor injuries.
    I’ve never seen Top Gun summarized so succinctly. You obviously know your craft.

  30. Sounds like the Blindspot has similarities to the Flaw – it’s something bad that the character isn’t seeing in themselves. I’ve recently learned that even your Big Bad Troublemaker should have flaws, even if they’re a truly evil villain. Their flaws will usually be considered good things but will be keeping them from being a better villain, such as too much compassion or being quick to fall in love. So it’s very interesting to learn that even our villains should have blindspots. Nice post!

    • PersonSP on August 19, 2015 at 5:39 am
    • Reply

    That was a rather interesting read. Though I was well aware of the need of a blind spot, I think the examples are great. They made me realise that a blind spot is also a drive and that those are not separate things. Though most of the time the story fixes itself (so that drive and blind spot naturally become one) it’s good to keep this in mind. Thanks a bunch!

    • Kathie Marshall on January 17, 2017 at 2:36 pm
    • Reply

    Thanks to Jean Jenkins, I’ve now discovered your blog. Currently working on a YA manuscript. My female protagonist definitely has a blind spot, and his name is Fox. Your words helped solidify my thinking about the relationship between these two and how I might best reveal this part of her character arc. Thanks so much.

  1. […] How to Create Dimensional Characters—Beyond the Wound & Into the Blind Spot. […]

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