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
Welcome to DiAnn Direct!
Breathing Life into Your Characters
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.
If I ask what was your most memorable book, what would you say? Did the story keep you awake at night and gobble up your attention? What made that book come alive and not let you go?
Of course, it was the characters. You closed the door on the outside world until your beloved character found happiness or accomplished a remarkable feat.
The writer developed unforgettable characters by breathing life into the pages of a novel.
I’d like to help you fill a reader with the same satisfaction, to experience every step of a story’s journey through the eyes of a compelling character, and to leave the reader craving more.
Consider your best friend. How long have you known him or her? I’d venture to say that the process of developing the relationship has taken years. We writers don’t have twenty, thirty, forty, or more years to detail one character, so we need to form the right criteria to speed up the process. Establishing interview questions are the most valuable tool in discovering character wants, needs, strengths, weaknesses, and motivation.
Let’s begin with a list of basic questions and discuss how the answers can help the writer understand the character. For clarification, I’ll use the pronoun she in the questions below.
What is your character’s name? Strive to have your character’s name reflect the role she plays in your story. In addition, the name chosen needs to be pertinent to the story’s genre, setting, and time frame. Unusual spellings and pronunciations have the potential to confuse the reader, unless the distinction affects the story line. For our time together, I’m going to name our character Susan. Her name is of Hebrew origin and means “lily.”
What is Susan’s age and birth date? Maturity is often a factor in stories. As we grow older and experience more of life, our values and opinions change.
Does Susan have a nickname? Her family calls her Susie, but she despises it. How does her nickname affect her behavior?
Birth order is often an indicator of how a character reacts and responds to the happenings in her life. What is your character’s birth order?
What is her height and weight? How does she feel about those markers?
What is her race? How does it affect her life?
What are the sizes and shapes of her mouth, nose, and ears?
What color are her eyes? Do they have a unique shape?
What about the length and style of her hair?
What is her body build?
How is her health? Is she plagued with any illnesses or afflictions?
Does she use distinguishing gestures or mannerisms?
Where did she receive her education? How does she feel about this area of her life?
What is her occupation and income? Is she satisfied with it?
Does she have a hobby or special skill? What is it?
Does she have a favorite food or restaurant?
Does she own a pet? What kind?
Does she have any religious affiliation? What kind? Is it important to her?
Is she experiencing spiritual turmoil?
What is her speaking style?
What is her personality? By now you’ve begun to form an image of who your character is and what motivates her. I encourage you to seek an online method of personality testing. I prefer Myers-Briggs: http://bit.ly/92sFJE. Once completed, the personality assessment will help you better understand your character’s behavior.
Does she have a sense of humor?
How does she approach friendships? Does she have a best friend? Any close friends?
How does she feel about family? How does her family view her?
What is her social status? Does it matter to her? Does she want to change that aspect of her life?
Whom does she admire? Why?
All that is listed above is vital to knowing the character we named Susan. The responses will help you create a well-rounded character with mental, emotional, and physical traits. Many of the assigned characteristics have the potential to affect the character’s psychological development.
Find a picture of your character that you can refer to during the writing process. I suggest www.tonystone.com.
The following questions will help establish credible motivation by understanding Susan’s emotions.
What makes her angry? How does she handle anger?
What is her most painful experience? Elaborate.
What are her political and social views? Is she radical?
What are her fears? Mental or emotional problems? Describe.
What embarrasses her?
What does she appreciate about life?
What does your character despise about life? What would she do to change those things?
Whom would she like to be? Why?
From what you’ve learned about your character, list strengths, weaknesses, wants, and needs.
What is her external problem? Do you know how it will be solved?
What is her main inner problem? Do you know how it will be solved?
What is her goal? From what you know about her, what would she do and not do to achieve it?
Take a deep breath. The questions I’ve listed for you will lay the foundation for believable characters. Now, read back through your answers. Are they consistent? Do you like the character? If your character is a villain, do you understand how and why she makes bad decisions and poor choices?
Don’t stop now! Continue to spend time with your character. Ask questions and wait for an answer. Next month, we’ll go a step deeper with characterization and discuss the psychological aspects.
If you’d like a copy of my character sketch template, feel free to request your copy at www.diannmills.com.