How do you spot a One-Sided Character?

Tecdavid

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Or rather, what is a one-sided character, exactly? It's a term I've seen used several times, but never with an actual definition attached. Like the term Mary Sue, I've seen it used when people are merely (and perhaps unfairly) describing a character they don't like. But in these instances, it's more a matter of easily insulting a character than actually describing them.

So, what's the definition of 'one-sided character'? How do you spot one, or realise you might be creating one? And can anyone give some good examples of these characters? One's you've come across, I mean. Or maybe a few examples of characters that are anything but one-sided.
 

Montero

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I'd vaguely assume it is a walk-on bit part, possibly cannon fodder, who has no function other than to deliver a line, shoot someone, or get shot. Think the red shirted security guards in Star Trek that beam down, get shot, Kirk beams down to exactly the same spot and isn't shot.

The opposite would be rounded - that gives you some idea of the person. (Before they are shot :) )

It is a delicate balance getting a feeling of depth to a character without slowing down the story.
 

MemoryTale

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A one sided character, to me, is someone without a lot of discernable character traits. The old and new Star Wars trilogies are a good example. I saw somewhere (I forget where exactly) that a good game to play was to describe, for example, Han Solo's character without mentioning the word smuggler. Then describe someone like Mace Windu without mentioning the word Jedi.
 

Dante DiBenedetto

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I saw somewhere (I forget where exactly) that a good game to play was to describe, for example, Han Solo's character without mentioning the word smuggler. Then describe someone like Mace Windu without mentioning the word Jedi.

OP: This is good advice, but just keep in mind that it won't prevent your character from being one-dimensional. It just helps you escape the trap of archetypes.

One dimensional characters, so long as they are peripheral, are not always a bad thing. If you want to spice it up, just throw in something intriguing about them. They can be that smuggling rogue, or righteous jedi, but throw some factoids or scenarios in where they really shine.

For main characters though, they really can't be one dimensional. You need to show them as the flawed human beings they are (if they are in fact, humans :p)
 

Gabe.

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One sided character, for me, means a character that is either very one-dimensional or just not very nuanced. There is a slight difference.

One dimensional means that they are not very interesting, they are archetypal and therefore not particularly unique or relatable, as they tend to represent a stereotype rather than a believable person.

Characters that lack nuance are also not very believable. It is all well and good creating characters with a whole lot of positive traits, but it is worth nothing if that is not tempered with some negatives and inabilities. Everyone has failings and foibles, and it is in balancing those with abilities that compelling characters can be created.
 

Hex

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Or maybe a few examples of characters that are anything but one-sided.

It's difficult because I don't know what you read, but I thought these characters from fantasy 'classics' were quite sidey:

Logen and Glotka from Abercrombie's trilogy (he has a thing about interesting characters -- even West, for example, one of the few characters you can really like, isn't always a golden hero of Good).

Boromir from LotR.

Katniss from The Hunger Games.

One of my favourites -- Mordion from Hexwood.
 

Glitch

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A one sided character can be predictable, even when encountering new situations.
 

Grimbear

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Or rather, what is a one-sided character, exactly? It's a term I've seen used several times, but never with an actual definition attached. Like the term Mary Sue, I've seen it used when people are merely (and perhaps unfairly) describing a character they don't like. But in these instances, it's more a matter of easily insulting a character than actually describing them.

Transparent? Like Glitch said - everything on the surface and entirely predictable?

There's a saying: 'no side to him/her'. Maybe this is the same thing. Someone who had 'no side' to them would be honest and straightforward - what you see is what you get. Someone very open, with no secrets, an obvious agenda and a person who said whatever they thought without holding back. Calling a brick a brick in other words.

But this is a more positive spin than what you imply, and a character like this would not be one-dimensional.
 

AnyaKimlin

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A one sided character for me is one that doesn't change at all by the events thrown at them throughout the story. Nothing phases them and they are little more really than an omniscient narrator which allows the story to happen.

Having said that my favourite ever novel has a main character that is very much a one dimensional, Mary Sue. The story, descriptions and pace are so amazing I don't care and I actually like her.
 

AnyaKimlin

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It is borderline paranormal but is technically historical.

Mist Over Pendle by Robert Neill - it is back in print! (although the edit has given it a different feel. I'd been quite excited about replacing my very worn 1980s copy and was a tad disappointed). The story centres around Margery Whittaker a teenager who was a misfit in a Puritan family, she has gone to live with a distant relative Roger Nowell the local squire and justice. He is a similarly rebellious character. However that is their only real fault - they don't make good Puritans but Margery is loveable and educated enough to ingratiate herself with local Puritans. It is about the Pendle Witches.

It breaks so many ''rules'' of modern writing. It begins with a long back story introduction, the characters are all a bit too good or too evil to be true. The best drawn character is a puritan mill owner with strict principles and a kind heart. It is full of info dumping, -ly adverbs by the ton (some I swear he made up lol) and probably a lot of other issues. It also flies in the face of the accepted history of the story. He has all the dates, details, places spot on but the story seriously muddles the heroes and villains. Although one dimensional his characters are heroic, humourous in places and likeable. The story feels historical and like it is set in the right time frame.

I can't help it the warmth, the story, the colours in it just draw me in and I read it about two or three times a year.
 

Tecdavid

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That's rather curious. It isn't often I hear about a story that appears to make many mistakes, and yet is still perfectly enjoyable! I guess it's almost comforting to hear about it though, actually, since it confirms that a book can still be good even when mistakes or slip-ups are made, right?
 

thaddeus6th

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Someone who is predictable and lacks initiative. If their name might as well be Servant or Loyal Friend they're two-dimensional.

Of course, not every character can be fully three-dimensional, especially in books with lots of incidental characters. But major characters should be.
 

AnyaKimlin

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I don't know if they are mistakes and slip-ups in Robert Neill's case I get the impression he set out to write warm, enjoyable, historical stories about witches and he has in my opinion more than achieved that. His other stories like Witchfire at Lammas etc are very similar. For an historical novel the women maybe one sided but they are not simpering idiots either and don't throw themselves at the first available man. Margery does have a love interest but he is very much a secondary character. For her time and place Margery is given a great amount of responsiblity and independence. (admittedly because the cousin she lives with is rebellious like that).

The recent edition has tried to ''correct'' some of his mistakes and remove some of the adverbs (The original has several per page). It doesn't have the same warmth and colour as it had before.

I think it shows that sometimes in order for a story to work it is worth breaking some rules.
 

Tecdavid

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Maybe you're right, Anya. I guess there aren't "concrete" rules that all stories should follow, since different writers handle them differently. Maybe one story's flaw can be another story's quirk, or trait, depending on who's writing it.
I wonder whether characters themselves are like this. Could a character seem shallow in one story, in the hands of one author, but be right at home in another story, handled by another author? Like thaddeus6th says, I don't suppose every character can be fully fleshed-out...
 

rosethorn

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I think using cliches to describe a character makes for one-sided characters. "Rogue with a heart of gold" and so forth. Cliches make for a caricature of a character.
 

Gary Compton

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Thing is - isnt there one sided, one dimensional, shallow people in life.

Boring, uninteresting, lacking a spark. Sounds like a chapter from my autobiography, I could send a glass eye to sleep:eek:

Is it a bad thing I wonder?

As long as your mains are deep the rest are normal IMO:)
 

DWPetts

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I agree with montero. I equate it with the expendable crew member on Star Trek. But I also think it is any character which the writer needs to really think about why said character is doing what thier doing. Motivation should be relatively easy unless they are just a filler character
 

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