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.
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?
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.
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 and The Survivor, 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 I knew my character was speaking her heart. Give this technique a whirl. Who knows? This could be your best character!
Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists and have won placements through the American Christian Fiction Writer’s Carol Awards and Inspirational Reader’s Choice awards. DiAnn won the Christy Award in 2010 and 2011.
DiAnn is a founding board member for American Christian Fiction Writers and a member of Inspirational Writers Alive, Romance Writers of America, Advanced Writers and Speakers Association, and International Thriller Writers. She speaks to various groups and teaches writing workshops around the country. DiAnn is also a Craftsman mentor for the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild.
She and her husband live in sunny Houston, Texas.