Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Guest Blogger DiAnn Mills-Memorable Characters that Rival Scarlett and Rhett

I am thrilled to have DiAnn Mills as our guest blogger today. DiAnn has over forty books in print and has sold more than a million copies. A founding board member for American Christian Fiction Writers, DiAnn also belongs to Inspirational Writers Alive; Romance Writers of America; Faith, Hope, and Love; Advanced Writers and Speakers Association. She is also a mentor for Jerry Jenkins’s Christian Writers Guild.
DiAnn lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband.

So, without further ado, I'll turn things over to DiAnn.

Sit back and close your eyes. Who are your favorite book or movie characters? Are they Scarlett and Rhett? Perhaps Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia? Sam and Frodo? Ahab and the whale? The Lone Ranger and Tonto? The list goes on and on. Why are these characters unforgettable? What about them causes us to laugh and cry and wonder if they are all right?

The key is that the writer defined the characters with believable traits and clear motivation. We care about those characters. We live our lives vicariously through them. To many readers, their favorite characters must be real people because they live in their hearts and minds.

How does a writer create memorable characters? She establishes wants and needs that lay the foundation for critical motivation. If I asked you to take a moment and write down all of the things you wanted, the items might fill a book. But if I asked you to compile a list of what you needed, the project becomes a little more difficult. We don’t always know what we need, but finding out becomes a process of soul searching and experiencing life. But when needed items become goals, we are motivated to go after those things vital to our survival.

Character sketches provide great help to laying the foundation for our characters. They force us to think—brainstorm about what motivates the character. And there’s that word again: motivation.

The roots of motivation are unmet needs. How these needs are fulfilled depends on the character’s integrity, established over time through life experiences, inherited factors, and environment. No wonder we humans are flawed characters! No protagonist is perfect. No antagonist or villain is completely evil. But some characters have more flaws than others, and out of those flaws come weaknesses and room for character growth. Out of the admirable traits come our heroes and heroines, who have the stuff that gives us hope and help us to believe again in the goodness of mankind.

All of us have a need for relationships, significance, and security. These critical needs are supposed to be filled by God, but we, as flawed “characters,” look for fulfillment in other areas, and those areas become our weaknesses. Examine your character’s struggle. Does he/she have a need for sex, for material goods, power, work, education, or the arts? How are those weaknesses manifested? Does your character seek to satisfy his basic needs in ways that honor God? In short, what motivates the character?

My suggestion is to study your character from every angle to determine the underlying factors shoving them out of bed each morning. Interview them. Live with them. Go to dinner with them. Place them in settings that are unlike the previous scenes. Would you take a vacation with them? How a character reacts and responds to the events surrounding him determines who he is. Steer away from predictable behavior but stay within the perimeter of the traits you have assigned.

The next time you are reading a dynamic novel or watching a movie that has you sitting on the edge of your chair, take the time to discover the characters’ motivations. This article has just touched on the volumes of information about writing memorable characters. I hope I’ve given you inspiration to discover the techniques behind the scenes.

Scarlett and Rhett are unforgettable. Now you know why! Here is my question for you. Who are your favorite book or movie characters and why? I look forward to your response.

Check out my website at www.diannmills.com and sign up for my newsletter!

Thanks, DiAnn. You've given us some great information. I can't wait to hear about everyone's favorite characters.


  1. Wow, Diann! You've really given me something to think about! I appreciate your insight in developing memorable characters!

  2. One author whose characters always stick with me is Deborah Smith. The most recent one I read was The Crossroads Cafe. I think the main characters really stayed with me because they're so flawed (the heroine is actually a beautiful star who's been scarred in an accident).

    Another one I'm reading right now is Courting Miss Adelaide by Janet Dean. Even when I'm not reading, I can hear Adelaide's voice in my head, all prim and proper! :) So I think that's the mark of good characterization.

    DiAnn, thanks for your wonderful post! I do have a question, though. How can we make a character flawed without making him/her unsympathetic or unlikable?


  3. Very informative blog, DiAnn -- thank you!

    My favorite book is Gone With the Wind, so of course my favorite characters are Rhett and Scarlett. To me, there is nothing more romantic than two people who don't want each other, but really do!! Their GMC says NO, but their body and soul says YES!! Oh, swoon, to me that's SOOO ROMANTIC!!

  4. I'd have to agree with Julie. Scarlett is such a great example of a flawed heroine, too. We have every reason in the world not to like her, yet we LOVE her.

    Keep listing your favorite characters. DiAnn will be stopping by later, after she finishes and all-day meeting.

  5. I love the characters in Brigadoon, the play and movie. Their love and need for each other (Tommy and Fiona) crosses the barriers of reality to bring the mythical town back to earth before its time. The pull of where they each belong overshadows their decisions until one must sacrifice everything. I wish I could write like that!

  6. Great post, Diann, filled with helpful tips. Thanks.

    My favorite characters would be the four sisters in Little Women. Louisa May Alcott did a masterful job of painting them on the page. Another group of four sisters are also at the top of my list: Mary, Laura, Carrie and Grace, those wonderful Ingalls girls whom Laura Ingalls Wilder made into household names.

    And for more contemporary charaters, I would say that Michael Hosea and Angel/Sarah from Francine Rivers' excellent work Redeeming Love made a huge impact on me.

  7. DiAnn,

    My apologies for misspelling your name above. With a name like Keli, one would think I'd be more careful.

  8. Hi Cecelia, thanks so much for your sweet words. Glad you enjoyed the post!

  9. Hi Missy

    You asked: How can we make a character flawed without making him/her unsympathetic or unlikable?

    When you begin your story, show the protagonist's strengths. As the story moves along, then show the problem areas. The secret is to build the sympathy first. Remember how you fell in love with your spouse and then you got to know him? But, by then you were too much in love to do anything about it. :)

  10. Hi Julie

    I love Gone with the Wind too! A bestselling romance is with two unlikely people!

  11. Keli, I read Little Women so many times that I probably memorized it.
    Thanks for the post!

  12. LOL, DiAnn! I love that analogy of the husband.

    I'm starting a new proposal right now, so I'll be sure to make sure my hero is sympathetic right off the bat. Then I'll let him be himself. :)

    Thanks for blogging with us today!