the veins of a novel. Without characters a novel would just be
setting, and there would be more adverbs and long, flowery dense
paragraphs describing said setting, which would no doubt increase the
need for anti-depressants. But you can’t just throw characters on the
page, make them tongue kiss and call it a novel. No, sir. You need to
know these characters like you know yourself or your friends or
Don’t believe me? Fine. But maybe you’ll
believe my old friend Lajos Egri, who, in The Art of Dramatic
Writing, states that, in order to truly make “tri-dimensional
characters”, you need to know their three ‘ology’s: Physiology,
Sociology, and Psychology. And trust me, you do not want to mess with
Lajos Egri, especially after he’s been drinking whiskey. Now seeing
how this is a two question quiz and not three, we have omitted
psychology, but that matters not. I think you’ll get the drift.
So stop doing pushups in front of the mirror, mute “Will and Grace”, and
check up on this special, awkwardly long edition of The Two Question
Directions: Pick the answer that most clearly coincides with what you
know of your main character.
1. Describe everything you know about the physiology of your character.
A. Casey is a girlish boy between 18-40 with terrible posture.
B. Casey is a really tall girlish boy in his mid-twenties with
terrible posture and hips that don’t lie.
C. Casey is a 6’8 girlish 26 year old boy with raven black hair,
green eyes, freckles and the posture of a man who has spent most of
his life in one of those stockades you see in The Pirates of the
Caribbean. He’s decent looking despite having thick ankles and uneven
arms. And yet, his hips still don’t lie.
D. At 6’8, Casey is registered as a giant in several Eastern European
countries. A long, wiry 26 year old with raven black hair, greenish
yellow eyes, and those light freckles that only show up in the sun,
he has to deal with the fact that his right arm is 2 inches longer
than the left and his ankles are so thick that they may be impossible
to sprain. His feet are uncomfortably wide, which means he has to
purchase New Balance running shoes because they come in widths. He
has a fairly symmetrical face, although that contends with a gigantic
head that he covers with a ten-gallon Stetson he calls “Izzy”.
Perhaps that explains his terrible posture and the birthmark of a
lightning bolt fighting a wizard on his back. And after spending
several summers in latin dance classes, his hips finally don’t lie.
2. What is the sociological situation your character faces?
A. Drew is a kind of rich white boy who went to one of those schools
where you don’t come home after school and you have to wear sweaters.
His parents are, like, aggressively not sweet.
B. Drew is a 22 year old upper-middle class white kid with a secure
job selling Cutco knives door to door post college. He went to
boarding school after his parents divorced and his father moved back
to Ireland. His mom does drugs and cries while watching Grey’s
C. Drew is a 22 year old upper-middle class white kid from Weston,
CT. He has a job right now selling Cutco knives, which is lucrative
because he knows a lot of rich women with dull knives. Drew attended
Choate after his parents split and then Connecticut College, where he
double majored. His mother divorced his father, an Irish doctor,
after finding out he had a second life in Seattle, WA, where he was
dating an intern at a hospital. His mother smokes drugs and cries
while watching Grey’s Anatomy repeats. When this happens, Drew goes
up in his room and plays video games.
D. Drew is a 22 year old upper-middle class white WASP from Weston,
CT. He dislikes his current job selling Cutco knives but doesn’t quit
because he’s made 7 grand in the past two months selling said knife
sets to bored, rich friends of his mother, who always act impressed
when he cuts a penny with a knife. After his parents divorced when he
was 16, Drew attended Choate where he got mostly B’s, and Conn
College, where he majored in English and Dance and continued to get
B’s while dating girls one year younger than him. His mother is
depressed, and has been ever since she found out that his father, a
surgeon, large Republican party donor and Irish citizen, was leading
a second life in Seattle, WA, where he lived in a trailer on a large
tract of land and dated an intern at Seattle Grace named Meredith.
During the days his mother sits around the house in fleece
sweatpants, smoking marijuana out of a bowl she confiscated from him,
eating Funions, and crying while watching several emotional episodes
from the Second Season of Grey’s Anatomy. When this happens, Drew
goes up in his room and plays as the Dallas Stars in NHL 94 on his
Sega Genesis, usually with the penalty for offsides turned off.
Mostly A’s: Perhaps you haven’t quite thought through just how long
you’re going to be with this character, mostly because you don’t
really seem to know anything about them. Maybe you two need to re-
evaluate your relationship before moving forward in a serious manner.
Really, it’s not them, it’s you.
Mostly B’s: You’re getting there. You kind of know things about your
character, and you’ve kind of started to flesh them out, and that’s
kind of good, but you better start stepping your game up if you want
to make this character more than kind of believable. Nice job, kind of.
Mostly C’s: This is good. You’ve really thought about your character
and started to develop specific, detailed backstory, which will guide
you through the book. You might even have enough there to be able to
pump out a first draft in less than three years. Please stop rubbing
that fact in my face.
Mostly D’s: You have an obsessive, scarily encyclopedic knowledge of
your made-up character that borders on unhealthy. You probably get
into real life situations and find yourself thinking, “what would my
character do here”, which is troubling, especially if you’re on a
date. And worst of all (for us and the hope for normal social
interactions), if you want to create successful Egri style “tri-
dimensional” characters, this is probably where you need to be at.