Creating Three-Dimensional Characters: In Our Own Work

It’s Three-Dimensional Characters week.  Let’s see if we can flesh out our characters with backstory and description, internal depth, defining choices and actions, and a future to anticipate or dread.

When we last left off, we were working on a human rights attorney story and a diamond bullets story.

Many of the past Friday posts have already answered a lot of the fields in our 3D character sheet.  In fact, I think they’ve answered all the fields, except for character name.  So this three-dimensional character exercise is mostly just a cohesion check. Tweet this

That being the case (and because when I finished with the human rights story’s character sheet I was already over 2100 words), I’m only going to do the human rights story.


Set in the mid 1950’s, against the backdrop of the first US Supreme Court case to affirm gay rights, a human rights lawyer joins a wealthy Los Angeles law firm in order to fund his transgender partner’s wrongful termination suit against the federal government, not knowing that the firm’s managing partner is a devil intent on sabotaging the lawsuit.

Our Thematic Premise:

Courage leads to self empowerment;
cowardice leads to disempowerment.

Name and Character Role:  Amos Anderson, Protagonist

(Why? Because a search for names meaning “courageous” turned up a bunch, including Amos and Anderson, and I liked the sound of Amos Anderson.  Hey, it’s not rocket science.)

Physical Description/Physiological/Surface Traits/Ticks and Habits:

  • Present:
    • Amos is a little shorter than average.
    • He’s a boxer.  (If this seems odd, that’s probably because it was fleshed out way back in the day, when we did Walking Contradictions.)  Not because he likes boxing; he doesn’t compete.  It’s just good exercise.  Something you can do solo, plus he’s been doing it so long, he’s pretty good at it, so everybody just leaves him alone when he’s practicing.  He’s safe when he’s boxing.  You won’t catch him at the gym, with the big, intimidating muscle guys.
    • He’s got the physique of a boxer, but you can’t really tell when he’s dressed in a suit.  He just looks fit.
    • He’s short on cash, so his suits are dated and untailored.  Browns show up a lot.
    • Amos gets red in the face easily.  Embarrassed, scared–he turns red, and his words fail him.
    • Boxing is the way he releases the stress from being meek and cowardly in the other areas of his life.
  • Past:
    • Amos has always been small, small enough to be a target for bullying, contributing to his flaw of cowardice.
    • His reddening face didn’t help matters.
    • He started boxing as a kid, because his dad liked boxing and made all his sons take boxing.  Amos was scrawny and cowered away from punches, and his dad always berated him for being a coward.  Amos never really stopped cowering away from the punches, but eventually the cowering turned into mere flinches, and finally he just quit boxing against other people and stuck to the bag.
  • Future:
    • Amos will soon have the money to dress better, and the firm will require it, but . . .
    • He’ll eventually leave the firm and have to mortgage his house.  Selling the suits will be a needed source of income.  He’ll be back in his old ones.  He might even have to survive work in his boxing sweats.
    • Amos will eventually be almost perpetually red, so much so that he could have a hot flash or high blood pressure episode or something in court.

Personality Traits/Strengths And Psychological/Inner Demons/Internal Conflict/Weaknesses:

  • Present:
    • Amos spends his free time watching old legal movies, where the hero lawyers win against all odds, trying to psyche himself up for his own work.
    • Amos is smart.  It’s just that sometimes he has trouble getting his smarts out of his mouth in a timely, take-me-seriously fashion.
    • Amos’s flaw is that he’s a coward.
      • In the legal arena, Amos’s recent losses are generally due to his failure to pursue tough cases with diligence, but he blames everyone else: his client, the evidence, the way-too-good opposing counsel, the judge, the law. He points the blame everywhere but at his cowardly self.
      • In his personal life, Amos keeps the public appearance of his relationship with his transgender partner strictly professional.
      • Amos wants to throw in the towel on the wrongful termination case.  Maybe Amos could complain to someone and his partner could overhear, and so his partner calls him, Amos, out on his flaw, pointing out that he’s always a coward when things get tough.
    • Amos needs to feel empowered.
  •  Past:
    • If something Amos wants takes even a little effort or courage on his part, then he gives up.  It’s gotten so bad that it’s even having a trickling out effect.  One symptom:  Say Amos is at the supermarket and what he wants is available, but out of reach, say on the stocking shelf.  He could ask for help, but he doesn’t.  This isn’t quite cowardice, but it’s that trickling out effect, a symptom: He’s so beaten down that he avoids even the slightest possibility of being disempowered any further.
  • Future
    • Amos’s flaw could be exposed when he gets to the new firm.  It’s very competitive.  Everyone competes, and not just in the courtroom, but in the preparation room, in their off time, in their sleep.
    • Amos can’t just not compete with everyone because firm resources–the money Amos needs to continue his partners case–depend upon competing.  The money’s allocated to the firm’s “winners.”
    • Amos will have to go public with his romantic relationship.


  • Present:
    • Amos is in a romantic relationship with a transgender person, but to the outside world, he maintains the appearance that he’s just a bachelor.
    • Amos might still be in touch with a brother or his mom, but they’re not super close.  Amos’s dad is deceased and Amos is still resentful of his other brother, who never grew out of being a bully.
  • Past:
    • Amos was the youngest of three brothers, who were bigger and liked to tease him.
    • His dad was big, too, and liked guy things, which Amos’s brothers liked, but which Amos wasn’t all that into.
    • There were lots of incidences with his dad, demonstrating a pattern of Amos being told he was weak and worthless.  Maybe when Amos was a kid, trying to achieve something his Dad thought wasn’t worthwhile and wouldn’t happen anyway, like, say, sewing a Halloween costume, his dad berated his choice and told him not to bother, it won’t turn out, he’ll never amount to anything, so why try.
    • Amos’s mom wished she’d had a daughter instead of a bunch of boys, but she wasn’t too keen on Amos taking interest in things considered girly.  So Amos had a push-pull kind of relationship with his mom.
    • Amos may have made a couple close friends in law school, where your brain, as demonstrated by your grades, matters more than your physique.  Grading was also anonymous, which took the stress off.  If he failed, no one would know . . . which, ironically, allowed him to end up doing pretty well.
  • Future:
    • Amos will take his relationship public.
    • Amos may call on his law school friends to help him with his case when he’s cut off from the firm and has to mortgage his house.
    • Amos might consult his bully brother, or the one-time bully brother, to try to figure out how such people think, to gain insight into working with the bully/devil managing partner.

Skill Set/Occupations/Education/Hobbies/Interests:

  • Present:
    • Amos is a human rights attorney.
    • Amos would rather be doing anything else but practicing law. Too confrontational.  So the few times push back has happened in a case, Amos has just let the opposing force take over.  There hasn’t been enough at stake in any particular case to get Amos to really give his all.  Not until now that is, now that his current, troublesome case involves his partner.
  • Past:
    • Amos went to a decent law school, where he did very well.
    • Amos has had it easy so far in his legal career; he hasn’t had much push back; he hasn’t had to stand tall in the face of things not going his way.
    • Amos’s dad always wished that he, dad, had become a lawyer and always talked about how great being a lawyer would be.  Amos became a lawyer to finally make his dad proud.
  • Future:
    • Amos will join a wealthy firm in order to fund the continuation of his transgender partner’s discrimination case against his former government employer.

Plot/Actions and Choices:

  • Present:
    • Amos thought his case would settle out of court.  Now that it hasn’t, Amos is considering his options of how to fund his partner’s case. Will he ask the ACLU for help?  Will he try to get a job at a rich firm with the funds to support the case? Will he mortgage his house?
    • Amos is dismissive about the case when his partner tries to talk about it, because he, Amos, is scared and would rather say nothing than something unsupportive.
    • To prepare for Amos’s change from cowardly to courageous, we could show that Amos has instinctive courage, paving the way for him to expand further into considered courage.  This is a cliche example, but we could have his partner’s purse snatched and Amos could chase after it.
  • Past:
    • Amos persuaded his partner to sue his partner’s former government employer for wrongful termination/discrimination.
    • Amos does have a few instances where he succeeded in the past despite pushback.  In law school, where the stakes are fairly low, Amos managed to prove his case and prove the opponent was a cheater in a mock trial.  Someone could remind Amos of this, “See, you can stand up and hold your own.”
  • Future:
    • Amos will accept a job at a wealthy, prestigious firm.
    • Amos will do illegal things at the request of the managing partner.  (If this seems out of left field, it’s from when we fleshed out the structure of a plot for this synopsis.)
    • Amos’s actions, on behalf of and indirectly because of the managing partner, will sabotage his case.  He’s doing so many side jobs for the firm that he’s handing off a lot of appearances in his partner’s case to first- and second-years, who aren’t prepared or skilled enough and don’t report back on everything.  He’s missing deadlines, overlooking evidence.
    • When things get really bad, Amos will have to make a choice: stay in the firm or quit and continue the case on his own.  He’ll leave the firm, rendering himself broke again.
    • Amos will mortgage his house to pay for the case, something he was too cowardly to do earlier.
    • Amos will get a subpoena for information about himself and his partner that he, Amos, thought was totally private but that was leaked by the devil managing partner, thanks to bugs in Amos’s office.
    • Not wanting to reveal their private relationship (most people think Amos’s partner is just a client), Amos will fail to produce the information and his client/partner will be carted off to jail.
    • Amos will offer up the firm’s illegal activity in exchange for his client/partner’s release.  This will be a scary choice for him, because he’ll be incriminating himself.  He’ll likely be disbarred.
    • Working with the DA (essentially, the government) on the case against the firm’s illegal activity, Amos will learn information he needs to win his partner’s case against his former government employer.
    • Amos will win his case at great personal cost, but with great courage.
    • Amos will do community service and no longer be allowed to practice law.  He and his partner will step courageously into an entirely unknown future.

External Conflict:

  • Present:
    • Amos is running out of money.
    • The stress is causing conflict with his partner/client.
    • Amos is also in conflict with the government employer and their attorneys through his partner’s case.
    • He’s probably also in conflict with the many judges he has to work with.
  • Past:
    • Amos has a history of getting on the bad side of judges.
  • Future Conflict:
    • Amos will have to compete against his colleagues in the new firm in order to receive the firm’s resources for his case.
    • Amos’s main conflict is with the managing partner of his new firm.
    • Amos’s trial is assigned to a judge he’s got unfavorable history with.
    • The opposing counsel in his partner’s case will receive private information they shouldn’t have and clearly lie about where they got it.
    • Amos will have conflict with the DA, but will turn her into an ally.
    • Amos will have to stand up for his client/partner and the case, but also for himself, for his own professional reputation.


  • Present:
    • To protect his partner.
    • To secure a new source of income.
    • To win the case.
  • Past:
    • To protect his partner.
    • To receive justice for his partner.
  • Future:
    • To earn firm resources for his case.
    • To win his partner’s discrimination case.
    • To get payback against the managing partner.
    • To get her partner out of jail.


  • Present:
    • Amos needs money if he’s going to continue pursuing the case.
    • Amos still wants justice for his partner.
    • The government and their attorneys are adding insult to injury, dragging out a case that should’ve been settled and needlessly costing Amos a lot of money.
  • Past:
    • Amos pursued the case in the first place because believed his partner had a good case, and he fully expected to quickly settle outside of court for a nice sum of money.
    • Amos wanted justice for his partner being discriminated against and wrongfully terminated.
  • Future:
    • Amos will still need money for the case when the firm doesn’t immediately allow him access to its financial resources just because they’ve hired him.
    • Amos’s managing partner will have coerced Amos into sabotaging the wrongful termination case, and Amos will want justice for that.
    • Amos’s professional reputation will be at stake when private information is leaked.
    • Amos’s partner will be sent to jail and Amos will want to rescue him.
    • Amos will still want justice for his partner and to win the case.


  • Present:  Los Angeles in the mid-1950’s.
  • Past:  Amos grew up somewhere small and small-minded, with a lot of hate and bigotry.
  • Future:  We’ll still be in LA and it’ll still be the 1950s, but we’ll also have established the first US Supreme Court case to affirm gay rights.


Well, that’s it for me.  What about you?  Do you see any more character aspects we could give Amos?  What about in your own stories?  Did this exercise show you that you probably have a 3D character?  Or did you learn that there are additional character dimensions that you’ve been overlooking?  Tell us in the comments!


We’re going to look at how to forge the reader-character bond.  It’s a good one you won’t want to miss.  Sign up for updates, and you’ll get an email when it posts.  See you then!

And, as always, if you found this post helpful, please feel free to share it! Tweet this

Thank you!


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