Wednesday, October 28, 2020

10 Ways to Show Character Growth and Change in Your Novel

by DiAnn Mills @DiAnnMills

Suspense and thriller novels are filled with strong characters who initiate gripping action that propels toward an unpredictable climax. Readers enjoy the breathless moments, the ticking clock, and the race to end or prevent a crime. They long to form a sympathetic bond with the character right from the first line.

Writers create their stories with the idea of building anxiety and uncertainty of what’s to happen. But what a reader loves is watching a favorite character transform into a stronger person. Especially the character who has shown heroic traits while overcoming a psychological issue. And those mental stalkings can be anything from guilt, shame, anger, regret, loneliness, lack of confidence, and a host of other issues.

The key word here is “heart” because that’s where reconstruction of the soul takes place. When a protagonist slams against a wall, either literally or mentally, the rebuilding of the inner person takes place through actions and reactions. The physical goal is impossible to reach without the character first overcoming the monster within.

The process demands writers spin out of the tell zone and zoom into the show zone. So what are ways we writers can show our characters have moved up a notch in the world of morals or spiritual growth? 

Here are ten suggestions that will help endear that character to your reader.

1. Show a real character. Assign the character credible strengths and weaknesses, goals and flaws, personality and quirks. A hero or heroine must leap tall buildings in a single bound—and also leap from the page with unusual traits that excite the reader. We are all three dimensional creatures who experience life with a variety of external and internal actions and reactions.

2. Show a character with a vital goal or problem. Embark the character on a journey to reach an objective. The goal or problem must be one that only your character can solve. Have him make a commitment to see the critical situation to the end, forcing him to learn new and difficult skills.

3. Show a character facing his worst fear. Your character can’t change and grow into a better person until he seizes control of what internally stalks him. He may know his psychological problem or he may not, but by the end of the story, he must name the fear and make a decision to overcome it.

4. Show the character making tough choices. Our characters need to experience the consequences of their actions, either right or wrong. Right is a reward and often boring. Wrong is a surge of excitement for the reader. Force the character to choose between two rights or better yet between two wrongs.

5. Show the character losing something. The character has something valuable in his possession, and he may not realize it until it’s too late. This item is critical to his physical goal and is woven in his internal needs. He must have it or everything explodes into chaos.

6. Show the character in a stunning victory then steal it. The character works hard at obtaining something, then take it away. Better yet, toss him into a waterhole filled with hungry crocodiles. How does he react and respond to the loss and the danger facing him?

7. Show the character failing. Have the character run down false leads and realize a red herring then internalize his error. How does the reversal affect him?

8. Show the character’s emotions. The character needs to experience all seven of the universal emotions: anger, fear, sadness, surprise, happiness, disgust, contempt Tonya Reiman - His emotions are uniquely his: unpredictable and believable.

9. Show the character’s dialogue. When we desire something, it occupies our thoughts, words, and actions. Ensure the character’s dialogue is ambiguous of what he truly needs.

10. Show the character with symbols. The character attaches emotional qualities to tangible item(s). How do those items build him up or tear him down?

Character growth and change is not the same for every character. Some protagonists and antagonist will stay the same from the beginning of the story until the end. A character might worsen, as in an antagonist. But for the hero or heroine, the internal transformation must be clear and shown in ways that the reader has no doubt what has occurred. 

How do you show heroic qualities in your characters?


DiAnn Mills is a bestselling author who believes her readers should expect an adventure. She creates action-packed, suspense-filled novels to thrill readers. 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. 

She is the director of the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference, Mountainside Marketing Retreat, and Mountainside Novelist Retreat with social media specialist Edie Melson. Connect here:

1 comment:

  1. Thank you DiAnn, for this excellent list. I enjoyed reading your “High Treason” recently. Its interesting to think about the story now and see where you applied the above. :)