Wednesday, October 24, 2018

For Novelists, What is in Your Character’s Lifeboat?

by DiAnn Mills @DiAnnMills

Many of our characters have a lifeboat filled with tangible items and memories that help them survive challenges. This is where a character travels when the storms of life gather and blow. The psychological connections keep the character grounded, inspired, on-task, encouraged, entertained, pacified, and motivated. 

Sometimes the item is physical, a symbol of what the character designates as important. Other times, a memory, either cherished or despised, acts as a springboard for specific actions.

To determine what’s inside your character’s lifeboat, look to genre, goals, needs, wants, personality, and life experiences.

Various genres dictate values unique to the type of story. 

Contemporary novels contain characters who live in today’s world. The setting depends on culture, and the treasures are unique to the story line. This includes women’s fiction, mystery, suspense, thrillers, and horror novels.

Romance novels use intense emotions to drive the story. The character’s lifeboat is usually linked to love and relationships.

Historical novels take the reader back in time. The values placed on objects and memories may apply only to the time period.

Fantasy novels incorporate a world devoted to adventure and often magic. The story uses creatures and imaginary cultures that allow the writer to freely envision what is most precious to the character.

Sci-Fi novels use futuristic technology in which the reader gains an appreciation of the story’s application of scientific knowledge. From this setting, the writer develops a character’s most valuable possessions.

What does your character want most in life? Is it rooted in a loved one, career, childhood, vengeance, or what? The contents of your character’s lifeboat may be admirable or evil, but no matter what it contains, the item means more than anything they possess.

Characters require certain necessities to maintain life. Physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual essentials allow the character to avoid distress and hardship. Note that one character’s needs may not be the same as another, and what a character believes he/she needs may be unwise. What’s important is the value the character places on the need. 

Our characters have a continuing list of wants—just like we do. Their longings differ from day to day according to what is happening around them. Stepping into a lifeboat may remind the character of past desires and renew the interest to achieve them.

Our characters are either introverts or extroverts of varying degrees. What matters most is etched deep in their personality type and dear to their hearts. 

Life Experiences
Every moment we are alive has the potential to mold and shape us into better people. We make decisions and hope the results are for our betterment. In story, everything that occurs to the character before chapter one, line one is backstory or life experiences that motivate the character into compelling action. A character’s lifeboat has as many memories as his/her heart and mind chose to embrace.

Your character’s dearest possessions may not be silver, gold, or fine jewels but a storehouse of those things important only to him and the dynamics of the story.

What is in your character’s lifeboat?

For novelists, what is in your character's lifeboat? @DiAnnMills on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

Novelists must dig deep into the lives of their characters when creating a compelling story - @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. Can The Write Conversation be a lifeboat Ms. DiAnn? Have been told I'm quite a character a few times. Great post! God's blessings ma'am.

    1. Hi Jim, yes! The Write Conversation is a lifeboat for all writers. Glad you enjoyed the post.

  2. DiAnn,

    --Enjoyed hearing you speak at the Taylor U. Writers' Conference. Although I usually write non-fiction, there is a fiction novel simmering on the back burner of my mind, and your posts help it to come together with purpose. Thanks! -Roberta Sarver

    1. Thanks, Roberta. You may need to challenge yourself to write that novel. :)

  3. A good reminder. Thank you much. ;)

    1. Thanks, Donevy. Focusing on a lifeboat was a reminder for me too!