Monday 15 June 2020

The Importance of Multi Dimensional Characters

By Alyssa J. Montgomery

Romance writing 101 tells us how important it is to create multi-dimensional characters and how our readers want to be able to relate to the main characters—to admire the heroine, feel as though they could be friends, or even want to be the heroine. In the same way, our romance readers want to fall in love with our heroes.

Characterisation and plot may go hand in hand, but for me if the characters aren’t tangible and relatable, it doesn’t matter how good the plot is, I probably won’t finish the book.

When I’m asked to think back through the stories I’ve written and choose my favourites, my standouts have been because I’ve formed a really close “bond” with the characters rather than based on a favourite plotline or trope. 

India, for example, in The Formidable King, was definitely not the character I had in mind for my hero. I was intrigued by her and wanted to tell her story, but not in that particular book. But, she kept forcing her way into my thoughts and insisting she was the right heroine for my hero. 

What made her so interesting to me was the very lifestyle she’d led, the issues she’d had to deal with, the vulnerabilities she had and the strength she possessed so that she could overcome those issues. She was so ‘real’ that she ‘spoke’ to me. I was totally invested in her conflict, empathetic because I understood her background and motivations, and I was rooting for her to achieve her goals.

A summary of the most salient points I remember about characterisation from a stack of workshops I’ve attended and books that I’ve read emphasise that:

1.                                     Impact can be made when the character engages in some unexpected behaviour eg. the shy heroine letting loose at a karaoke evening or having a little to drink and propositioning the hero
The strong, successful heroine who becomes very submissive when she’s in the company of an elderly aunt who’s raised her and perhaps has been critical of her

The character has particularly strong beliefs about something but a shred of doubt emerges that starts making them question their perspective

Characters must have flaws. Life is unpredictable and complicated and the character who has a messy or conflicted life is easier to relate to than the character who’s got life all sorted and has no need for emotional growth.

Characters need to have vulnerabilities.

The dimensions of characters

First dimension is what you can see – physical appearance, quirks and habits, manner of speech – whether this is a mask or real. Many supporting characters may be one-dimensional.

Dig a layer deeper and you have the character’s backstory – what has happened to shape the character’s morals and reactions? Remember that a person is the sum of all their fears, dreams and experiences. The backstory can tell us why the character has unfulfilled desires, weaknesses, resentments, strengths and fears or conflicts. It’s these things that we may be able to relate to ourselves or that can make us more empathetic to them.

Then, we need to have an understanding of the characters ethics/morals or beliefs that lead to them to act a certain way. 

Character interviews are a useful way to get to know your characters well and to explore the driving force of the story – their goal, motivation and conflict. (Enisa Haines did a great article on this subject on the Breathless in the Bush Blog in October, 2016.)

 (Image : Courtesy of

Love to Love: My favourite characters are ones who have a good moral compass but who may veer of path and do something out-of-character because deep loyalty to a friend or family member and who are therefore conflicted by that action.

Love to Learn: If you had to marry one romance book hero, who would you choose? Likewise, if you could have one romance book heroine as your BFF, who would you choose?

Love to Laugh: At situations where characters do something whacky that is totally out of character.


  1. Hi Alyssa, love this post! I'm similar in my thinking regarding a memorable book. Mainly it's the ones that tug at my heartstrings; where the characters turn to the 'good side' (as opposed to the 'bad side') and then find joy and love. But oh, the journey to get there! I wouldn't mind marrying Mr Darcy - his house and money are just side bonuses (cough), honestly... As for a heroine BFF, I rather fancy someone like Abigail Chantry, from Anne Gracie's 'The Autumn Bride'. She left none of her friends behind, even when it was impossibly dangerous, and she was brilliant, loyal and loving. Everyone needs someone like that at their back. I also love your piano-playing heroine Grace, from 'The Magic of Christmas'. Such a lovely, loyal, take-nothing-for-granted person! Love discovering my new book BFFs in romance books.

    1. Yay! I finally have a computer and can reply! Anne Gracie can always be relied upon to write a thoroughly likeable heroine! Glad you also loved Grace from 'The Magic of Christmas'!

  2. So many great suggestions to make our characters more real! Thanks Alyssa! My favourite book boyfriend is Jamie Fraser (as I'm sure the world knows by now:)), and my female bff would be way too hard to choose.

    1. You're definitely not the only one who'd choose Jamie Fraser, Marilyn!

  3. Hi Alyssa. Great post. For me, the character makes the book, and flawed characters are the best. So many hidden depths. My favourite book boyfriend - can't choose, there are so many I love. Female BFF is Eve from JD Robb's In Death series. She's flawed and prickly yet fiercely loyal to her friends.

    1. I love flawed characters too, Enisa. Not surprising to hear you'd choose a JD Robb or a Nora Roberts character as one of your favourites!

  4. Hi Alyssa. So important to have good characterisation. You also have to make sure that they speak a certain way so that the reader can identify whose talking. Don't want your characters all sounding the same. This can be part of their character too, like always misquoting famous quotes, or the use of a certain quirky word all the time.

  5. You make a great point, Cassie. It's easier said than done though, isn't it, to make characters stand out merely on the basis of their dialogue. I always love your characters. x

  6. Thanks very much for providing us with such an in-depth exploration was ways to create multi-dimensional characters, Alyssa.


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