Eagle Designs
DiAnn Mills

DiAnn Mills believes her readers should “Expect an Adventure.” She is a fiction writer who combines an adventuresome spirit with unforgettable characters to create action-packed novels. Her books have won many awards through American Christian Fiction Writers, and she is the recipient of the Inspirational Reader’s Choice award for 2005, 2007, and 2010. She was a Christy Award finalist in 2008 and a Christy winner in 2010. DiAnn is a founding board member for American Christian Fiction Writers, a member of Inspirational Writers Alive, Advanced Writers and Speakers Association, and is the Craftsman Mentor for the Christian Writer’s Guild. She speaks to various groups and teaches writing workshops. DiAnn and her husband live in Houston, Texas. Visit her website at: www.diannmills.com or find her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/diannmills

Deepening Characterization

Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet.
Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul
be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.

                                                            ~Helen Keller

Last month, we discussed the foundation for developing memorable characters. We learned how a character sketch can help the writer assign physical attributes and explore basic motivation. This month, we’re going to dig deeper into the inner landscape of characterization and increase our understanding of motivation.

The inner qualities of characterization take time and patience to develop. Personality testing establishes whether a person is an introvert or an extrovert. Introverts tend to do a better job of reading others’ emotions. Extroverts are easier to read. I recommend using a Myers-Briggs personality assessment to assist you in this process (http://www.humanmetrics.com/). It not only provides a distinct personality for your character through a list of yes and no questions, but also it gives you vital information regarding habits, careers, and other famous people with the same type of personality.

Out of character comes plot, which means the writer determines those qualities that motivate a character into action. A character has a problem(s) to solve or a goal to achieve, and your story begins. By posing critical questions to your character, you can discover dark secrets, hidden ambitions, fears, dreams, hopes, and desires. The answers to these questions show the writer what topics need to be part of the plot. Understanding the psychology of your character allows your story to rise to a more professional level. The reader becomes involved in the character’s life and cares what happens to him or her. What are some of the items to consider?

We were created with three distinct needs: relationships, significance, and security. These needs were designed to be filled by an intimate relationship with God. But we are stubborn and have to find our own way. Understanding our characters’ weaknesses avoids cardboard characters who simply arrive on a scene with nothing to offer but a talking head. The following are a few of the devices a flawed character uses to fulfill these needs.

• Money: Does money rule your character’s thoughts?
• Power: Is your character obsessed with power and control?
• Sex: Will your character go to any length for intimacy?
• Material: Do material things rule your character’s actions?
• Appreciation of beauty: Does your character have a weakness for art that distracts and weakens her?

Your character also has unmet needs that are vital to her health and well-being. These are not inappropriate, but the motivation to satisfy them may result in poor decisions.

• A need to survive: Is your character or someone she loves threatened? Is obtaining food, clothing, or shelter a driving force in her life?
• A need to feel financially secure: What will your character do to pay the bills?
• A need to feel emotionally safe: Does your character have unresolved areas in her life?
• A need for intimacy: Does a need for friendships and sexual relationships direct your character’s behavior? What will she do to feel accepted?
• A need for significance: What will your character do to meet this need? Is her self- esteem, competence, and independence threatened?
• A need to fulfill goals: Will your character be influenced to make poor choices when her goals are too difficult to achieve?
• A need for an identity: Will your character be assertive to live up to her uniqueness?

A character reacts and responds according to her environment. Determining if the character bases life decisions as an independent person or as a member of a group will help the writer correctly identify wants, needs, strengths, weaknesses, and flaws. Independent behavior can be noble, such as a character taking risks to stand up for her beliefs. Or an independent stand can be selfish or greedy when decisions are self-serving. A decision based on the good of the group can be good, as in team players in a business environment or a body of church believers working to achieve a goal. Poor decisions resulting from group membership can be seen in gang violence or when the leader of a group convinces members that a wrong is a right.

Understanding your character helps you create unpredictable behavior, responses that are true to a personality but not necessarily foreseen. Many heroes and heroines are not aware of their admirable qualities until they are forced into an intense situation.

Every character in a novel is dealing with a change, a crisis or something out of her comfort zone. This is where the character realizes that the life she’s been living and the coping skills she used to solve problems no longer work. This creates a need to change, and the character is motivated. As your novel progresses and your character grows, she may or may not know the flaw in her character, but by the end of the book, she will not only realize the blemish but will make major strides to improving her quality of life. The writer’s responsibility is to determine if the character has the courage, determination, and openness to accept the challenge.

Character is developed through trials and difficulty, which gives him hope that life is worth living. In turn the reader finds hope in her own circumstances, and the writer finds hope in her life. A reality of novel writing is if the writer does not change and grow during the writing process, then she has failed, for how can she expect a character and a reader to step forward with new optimism if she cannot see the light in her work?

Next month we will be discussing setting. Keep writing!

The Fire in Ember, Zondervan, January 2011
Under a Desert Sky, Summerside, June 2011


Fire InThe Ember