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 and power. 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.
My desire to create high-level stories never stops. Characterization is always a challenge because I long to go deeper into the psychological realm of their worlds.
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 action 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 6 ways to show character depth by using the acronym for 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 begin writing 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 a solution to problems and goals. Know the character’s backstory and the critical events that shape chapter one, line one of story. Interview characters to find the source of the forbidden topics then use the information.
There are some questions I can’t answer until I’ve written several thousand words, but by the end of the story, I will have answers. If I don’t, then I’ve failed to know and grow my character.
R stands for research.
Writing what we know is outstanding advice, especially for new writers. But as our story ideas develope, 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 setting is foreign to the character, character growth and change take the stage. View setting as an antagonistic character with charm and beauty to lull the character into an uncomfortable or dangerous environment. Then turn the setting against the character, viciously. Add emotional conflict and watch the character change and grow to overcome insurmountable odds.
If I could add a third 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!
A stands for action.
Writers can spend days, weeks, months, and even years pre-writing 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 you to paint the story of your dreams—now.
T stands for thoughts.
Creating a novel means imploring the think process to mull over characterization and the scenes previously written or those yet to write. But we can’t write 24/7. Instead those times when we’re away from writing are opportunities to ensure our characters are behaving per the traits we’ve assigned them. 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 I encourage you to examine it as a challenge to make your best even better. Add muscle and clarity to your story by trimming the fat and ensuring strong verbs and nouns are used to show character. Clearly define your characters with well-rounded traits that show them as heroes, heroines, and villains.
Critique partners and writer groups are often a bonus, and I urge you to seek out 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 your method of editing, it is an essential aspect of the writing process.
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.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received for creating unforgettable characters?
DiAnn will be presenting her workshop, The Dance of Character and Plot, starting on September 4.
DiAnn Mills is a bestselling author who believes her readers should expect an adventure. She combines unforgettable characters with unpredictable plots to create action-packed, suspense-filled novels.
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 Readers’ 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.
DiAnn is a founding board member of the American Christian Fiction Writers, a member of Advanced Writers and Speakers Association, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers. She is co-director of The Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference and The Mountainside Marketing Conference with social media specialist Edie Melson where she continues her passion of helping other writers be successful. She speaks to various groups and teaches writing workshops around the country.
DiAnn has been termed a coffee snob and roasts her own coffee beans. She’s an avid reader, loves to cook, and believes her grandchildren are the smartest kids in the universe. She and her husband live in sunny Houston, Texas.
DiAnn is very active online and would love to connect with readers on Facebook: www.facebook.com/diannmills, Twitter: https://twitter.com/diannmills or any of the social media platforms listed at www.diannmills.com.
A pacemaker should have saved oil and gas magnate Nathan Moore’s life. Instead, it provided his killer with a seemingly perfect means of execution.
A bombing at one of Nathan’s oil rigs days earlier indicates his death could be part of a bigger conspiracy, a web Special Agent Tori Templeton must untangle. But her first order of business is separating the personal from the professional—the victim’s wife, her best friend, is one of the FBI’s prime suspects.
Clearing Sally’s name may be the biggest challenge of her career, but Tori finds an unexpected ally in the newest member of the task force, recently reinstated Deputy US Marshal Cole Jeffers. As Tori and Cole dig deeper into Nathan’s personal and business affairs, they uncover more than they bargained for. And the closer they get to finding the real killer—and to each other—the more intent someone is on silencing them for good.