Wednesday, July 25, 2018

For Writers: How to Ask Your Character Hard Questions

by DiAnn Mills @DiAnnMills

Some of our character’s traits are easy to discover. Physical description, food preference, a career choice, favorite color or food, wants, goals, and other basic attributes that can be revealed in a non-threatening manner. 

Life experiences that had painful physical, mental, or emotional outcomes are often hidden beneath a character’s facade. Sometimes those events are shoved to a dark corner of the mind, and many times they are not topics for discussion. 

The writer can’t address issues if she doesn’t know what they are.

How does a writer force a character to be transparent? Once we understand the character psychologically, we can better predict the response to uncomfortable situations. The character will showus the answers to hard questions before telling us.

The following steps will help a writer discover deep-rooted traits resulting from wounds.
  1. Establish the character’s personality. Many excellent solutions are available for personality testing, but my preference is the Jung Typology Test based on Cari Jung’s and Isabel Briggs Myers’ personality type theories. Through a list of 64 questions, temperament is established. The score indicates one of 16 personality types as well as the extent of introvert or extrovert. A perk for writers is the indicator for careers, communication strategies, learning styles, relationships, leadership abilities and style, and real and fictitious people who have the same personality.
  2. Develop the character’s backstory. That’s where you’ll find the motivation for what propels the character into action in chapter one, line one of story. Through the great teacher called life, the character learned how to handle emotions, faith, values, opinions, priorities, and a view of the world. The outcomes can be positive or negative.
  3. Place the character in difficult scenarios, physical, mental, and emotional based on worst fears as discovered in the personality testing and backstory.

With the above established, the writer has a foundation for what hard questions plague the character. 

But the work continues. 
  • Write scenes that force the character to face those fears, grueling emotional happenings with deep psychological meaning. 
  • Create unpredictable outcomes based on what is known about the character.
  • Create high stakes with serious consequences that fit the character’s temperament and goals.
  • Allow for character change, either an increase or decrease in growth.

Watch the character squirm. What are the word choices? What responses enter the character’s thoughts? Examine body language. 

Hard questions for the character demand even harder work for the writer. Are you ready to enrich your story with emotional impact?

For Writers: How to Ask Your Character Hard Questions - @DiAnnMills on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

Tips to help every writer delve deeper into your character - @DiAnnMills on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

DiAnn Mills is a bestselling author who believes her readers should expect an adventure. 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, Suspense Sister, and International Thriller Writers. She is co-director of The Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference and The Author Roadmap with social media specialist Edie Melson. She teaches writing workshops around the country.

DiAnn is very active online and would love to connect with readers on Facebook:, Twitter: or any of the social media platforms listed at


  1. Great post! The defining moment in character development, for me, was when I was asked, “what is your character’s wound?”

  2. Hard questions to make writing easier. Great tips as usual, DiAnn!

  3. Wonderful guidance Ms. DiAnn. Thank you so much ma'am. God's blessings...

  4. Very good way to add depth to the characters. ;)