It’s no secret that romantic suspense is one of my very fave genres to read, and DiAnn Mills has long been one of my fave writers in that genre! Today, I’m very honored to have her here to chat about how she creates unforgettable characters.
Reeling from a negotiation gone wrong, FBI Special Agent April Ramos is caught off guard when a frazzled young woman shoves a crying baby into her arms, then disappears. Worry for the child’s safety quickly turns to fear when a man claiming to be the girl’s father abducts them at gunpoint. April puts her hostage negotiation skills to use to learn more about who she’s dealing with: Jason Snyder, a fugitive accused of murder.
As Jason spins a tall tale about being framed for the killing of his business partner, April must sort through his claims to find the truth. A truth that becomes all the more evident after April overhears a conversation between Jason and the local sheriff and realizes something more sinister may be happening in their small town of Sweet Briar, Texas.
But aligning herself with a known fugitive to uncover the burden of proof could cost April her job . . . or worse, her life and the lives of other innocent people.
Writing is an adventure, a journey into the world of extraordinary characters. Our most memorable stories resonate with a reader because of unique characters who navigate through a powerful story and respond to the challenges before them with strength. Through adversity, the character transforms into a stronger person.
Writers long to leave their readers breathless with memorable characters who lead the way through a story filled with gripping action that propels toward an unpredictable climax.
The writer works hard to create high-level stories. Characterization is always a challenge because the writer wants to go deeper into the psychological realm to better understand character behavior.
My goal is to show distinct characters who bolt onstage with inner and outer conflict—raw, fresh, intimate, and real. I’m an organic writer who believes every story problem is linked to the point-of-view character’s wants and needs, goals, flaws, weaknesses, and strengths.
The key word is heart because that’s where reconstruction of the soul takes place. When a protagonist slams against a wall, either literally or psychologically, the rebuilding of the inner person takes place through actions and reactions. The physical goal is impossible to reach without the character first overcoming the monster within.
The process demands writers spin out of the tell zone and zoom into the show zone. So what are ways we writers can show our characters have moved up a notch in the world of morals or spiritual growth and leave the reader with an unforgettable experience?
The following are six ways to show character depth by using the acronym CREATE. I hope these guidelines help you reach your goals of dynamic characterization and story.
C stands for a characterization sketch. Some writers use a question-and-answer guide while others type a conscious stream about what is known about the character. I prefer a fill-in-the-blank method in which the information builds toward knowing what motivates the character into action. By spending time with this sketch, I’m able to brainstorm where my story might be headed and the pitfalls ahead for my character.
I’m always learning about my characters and the role they play in a story. Successful writers dive deep into the psychology of behavior, placing characters in unfamiliar settings and forcing them to struggle with solutions to problems and how to reach goals. Know the characters’ backstories and the critical events that shape them from chapter one, line one of story. Interview characters to find the source of the forbidden topics, then use the information to force character growth.
There are some questions I can’t answer until I’ve written several thousand words, but by the end of the story, I have answers. If I don’t, then I’ve failed to dive deep into my character.
R stands for research. Writing what we know is outstanding advice, especially for new writers. But as our story ideas develop, our characters will walk paths we’ve never trod. That means we writers learn all we can about a character’s life: career, culture, wants, needs, dialogue, victories, and the list goes on. The best research is done face-to-face with those who have the same occupation or knowledge as our character. For many of us who are introverts, the process can be scary. But the rewards result in the credibility of the story. Step out of your comfort zone. Do whatever it takes to ensure your story is unexpected, believable, and realistic.
E stands for explore. Setting is always worth exploring. This aspect of novel writing is often overlooked. When a character is challenged in a foreign setting, he must learn new skills. View setting as an antagonistic character with charm and beauty to lull the character into an attractive environment. Then turn the setting against the character, viciously. Add emotive conflict and watch the character sacrifice to overcome insurmountable odds.
A stands for action. Writers can spend days, weeks, months, and even years prewriting a novel. But the time comes when the writer must begin the process. The writer positions her fingers on the keyboard and writes. The genesis of story begins with the first word. No fears or misgivings, because we are the artist who is in control of the story. The blank page is a canvas waiting for the writer to paint the story of his dreams—now.
T stands for thoughts. Creating a novel means allowing time to think about what’s been written or what may happen next. We can’t write 24/7. Embrace opportunities to ensure our characters are moving ahead in their story. Our characters have goals, conflicts, and high stakes. They must be the only characters to walk through our stories, and that’s critical to establish in the beginning.
E stands for edit. Writers sometimes fear the editing process, but consider it a challenge to make the best even better. Add muscle and clarity to a story by trimming the fat and ensuring strong verbs and nouns are used to show character. Clearly define the characters with well-rounded traits that show them as heroes, heroines, and antagonists.
Critique partners and writer groups are often a bonus. Writers search for a good fit. Choose a group or partner whose skills equal or are above your own. Text-to-voice software is my favorite editing tool. With this application, a writer can download an entire manuscript and have the computer-generated voice audibly read the story. Some writers print their stories and edit from hard copy. Whatever the writer’s method of editing, it is an essential aspect of the process.
If I could add another E to CREATE, it would be emotion. Every sentence needs to be covered with emotional conflict that keeps the reader turning pages. So explore emotion too!
Quality characterization is every novelist’s goal. We strive for three-dimensional characters who come alive within the pages of our stories and live long after the book is closed.
If you’d like a copy of my characterization sketch, you can download it here: https://diannmills.com/pdf-downloads/Advanced_Characterization_Sketch_2017_DiAnn_Mills.pdf
What is the best advice you’ve ever received for creating unforgettable characters?
DiAnn Mills is a bestselling author who believes her readers should expect an adventure. She creates action-packed, suspense-filled novels to thrill readers. Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists; won two Christy Awards; and been finalists for the RITA, Daphne du Maurier, Inspirational Reader’s Choice, and Carol Award contests. Firewall, the first book in her Houston: FBI series, was listed by Library Journal as one of the best Christian fiction books of 2014. Connect with DiAnn at www.diannmills.com.
DiAnn Mill & Tyndale House are giving away a print copy of Burden of Proof to one of my readers! (US only) This giveaway is subject to Reading Is My SuperPower’s giveaway policies which can be found here. Enter via the Rafflecopter form below.
What about you?
Authors – What is the best advice you’ve ever received for creating unforgettable characters?
Readers – What makes a character unforgettable?