Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Art of Two-Dimensional Characters

by Cyle Young @CyleYoung

A master novelist paints his story with dynamic two-dimensional characters. The characters are woven into the story like puzzle pieces. Each is important to the final picture, but standing alone they bring no significant revelation to the final image.

Two-dimensional characters are flat. They lack depth, are partially developed, and often are stereotypically inclined.

But stories need two-dimensional characters. They bring the story to life, birthing a necessary reality for the main characters, and layering a believable background.

I experienced this, a few years ago, when I decorated 20,000 square feet of wall space with an underwater and island theme. The walls were painted with full-size murals containing beautiful images, animals, and landscapes. Each mural was originally two-dimensional. The paintings were flat against the wall. But as decorated and ornate as they were, they felt bland.

When I decided to add three-dimensional ornaments to the walls, they came to life. The murals had focal points that drew a person’s attention. But as helpful as the three-dimensional rocks and coral were, they would have been useless without the two-dimensional background. The setting brought the three-dimensional objects to life.

It’s the same way in a story.

Two-dimensional characters create a believable setting, which allows the main character to spring into life. With careful planning and placement these characters often go unnoticed.

Well-crafted two-dimensional characters:
  • Resemble an archetype
    • They exist as a typical example or stereotype of a type of person.
  • Fit neatly into the story and setting
    • They blend into the background to enhance mood, setting, plot, etc.
  • Are predictable and logical
    • They act in ways that are predictable for the main character as to not draw attention away from main or sub plots.
  • Have no past or future
    • They exist only in the moment, and are not fleshed out for the reader.
  • Are perfect
    • Their flaws are never revealed and they exist in perfection for a moment.
  • Lack depth and personality
    • Their personality, character, attitude, and behavior are never explored.

Attempting to create a story without two-dimensional characters is like painting a Bob Ross style painting without the happy trees. The painting would look bland, lacking depth and vibrancy. 

Every good story needs depth and vibrancy—it needs its happy trees.

Make sure you spend time ensuring your next story contains well-selected two-dimensional characters that allow your plot and main characters to flourish. Your story will shine and your reader will be pulled into the believable familiarity.


Cyle Young is thankful God blessed him with the uniqueness of being an ADD-riddled…SQUIRREL!...binge writer. Not much unlike the classic video game Frogger, Cyle darts back and forth between various writing genres. He crafts princess children’s stories, how-to advice for parents, epic fantasy tales, and easy readers.

Learn more about Cyle on his website Or check him out on or


  1. Wow, Cyle! I never thought about it, but you're right! I've got a whole village of them in my Chapel Springs series. They do what you say, but I've wondered about it. I'm delighted to find out the "science" behind it! This is wonderful advice.

  2. Thanks, Ane :) I probably spend too much time thinking about my two-dimensional characters, but it sure can be fun.

  3. Wow, I never thought of the need for a two dimensional background character, but it's true. A story is so much better with that doting granny, blonde bestie, or ditzy sidekick. :)

  4. What a great analogy, Cyle! Glad to know 2-dimensional characters have their (necessary) place.