Our most memorable stories resonate with us because of unique characters who journey through an adventure and respond to the challenges before them with strength and power.
We writers long to leave our readers breathless with unforgettable characters.
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 not a seat-of-the-pants writer. Neither am I married to my outline. I’m a combination of both—an organic writer who believes every problem in a story is linked to the point of view: the character’s wants, needs, goals, flaws, and strengths. Writing is an adventure, a journey into the world of extraordinary characters.
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 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 that lie ahead for my character. If you’d like a copy of my characterization sketch, you can download it HERE.
R stands for research.
To write what we know is outstanding advice, but 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, and victories. 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.
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. This allows the character to change and grow 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 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 be written. Our characters have goals, conflicts, and high stakes. The characters we choose for journeying through an adventure are the best ones for our unique stories. But we can’t write 24/7. Those times when we are away from writing are opportunities to reflect on whether our characters are behaving according to the traits we’ve assigned them.
Writers sometimes fear the editing process; but I encourage you to view this process as a challenge that makes your best writing even better. Clearly define your characters with well-rounded traits that show them as heroes and heroines. Critique partners and writer groups are often a help, and I urge you to seek out a good fit. Text-to-voice software is my favorite editing tool. With this capability, a writer can download an entire manuscript and hear the story audibly read. Some writers print their stories then edit from hard copy. Whatever your method of editing, it is an essential aspect of the writing process.
Quality characterization is a goal for every novelist. We strive for three-dimensional characters who come alive within the pages of our stories.
I’m always learning about my characters and the role they play in my story. I want to dive deeper into the psychology of behavior, practicing techniques that make the characters colorful and believable.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received for creating unforgettable characters?
By DiAnn Mills
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 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. Deep Extraction is her most recent release.
DiAnn is a founding board member of the American Christian Fiction Writers and a member of Advanced Writers and Speakers Association, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers. She is codirector of the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference, 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.