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The Good, The Bad, and the Gutless

by DiAnn Mills

You’re an excellent writer. You’ve spent hours developing your character, but something’s missing. Frustration is eating a hole into your creativity because your character is too proud to admit he might not be perfect.

You have:

•Researched your character’s personality.
•Interviewed him and asked tough questions.
•Developed a unique voice and dialogue.
•Established a setting that promises to spin the story into a whirlwind of action.

But the character is guarding his weaknesses and flaws. He won’t divulge one moment of backstory and you’re helpless to discover his motivation for any behavior.

It’s time to hit the psychology books. After all, this closed-mouth character may be the best one you’ve ever created.

Flaws and weaknesses in human nature stem back to creation. God created us with three needs: relationships, significance, and security. Those needs are supposed to be satisfied by Him. But Adam and Eve kicked off their own program of relying on God. The question is how does your character fulfill his basic needs that don’t factor God into the equation?

The following is a list of those weaknesses that your character may use to fill the empty spots in his life. Where does your character fit?

•Money
•Power
•Sex
•Material acquisition
•Work, relationships, education, and aesthetic values

Your character uses his weaknesses to satisfy unmet needs. Characters have unmet needs that fall into these categories.

•Survival – the need to have continued existence
•Security – the need for emotional and economic stability
•Sex – the need for intimacy
•Significance – the need to amount to something and be worthwhile
•Self-fulfillment – the need to achieve goals
•Selfhood – the need for a sense of identity

Once the writer is able to discover weaknesses and unmet needs, then motivation slips into an issue of backstory. Human motives have been categorized into four areas, and these areas extend into each one.

•Biological
•Social
•Cognitive
•Spiritual

So take a look at that stubborn character. What is his basic need? Is it relationships, significance, or security? Or a combination? What does he use as a Band-Aid to cover up what’s lacking in his life? What category does his unmet need slide into? Now what motivates your character into action?

In writing The Chase, my heroine Kariss Walker refused to tell me why she attempted foolish and dangerous things to save a child she didn’t know existed. When I realized she’d once worked in a daycare where a child in her class had been killed in a fire, her backstory flowed unto the page, a mix of honey and tears. That’s when you know your character is speaking his or her heart. Give this technique a whirl. Who knows? This could be your best character!


Bestselling author DiAnn Mills creates action-packed, suspense-filled novels.
Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists and have won placements through the ACFW and Inspirational Reader’s Choice awards. DiAnn won the Christy Award in 2010 and 2011. She is a founding board member of ACFW.

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One Response to The Good, The Bad, and the Gutless

  1. Love characters who are so well-developed, we know their deepest cravings even when THEY don’t admit it to themselves! Great post, DiAnn!