Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Don’t Place a Protective Shield Around the Characters You Write

by DiAnn Mills @DiAnnMills

Writers who place a protective shield around their heroes and heroines set themselves up for publishing doom. Their stories fail reader appeal because the character has no vulnerability. All our characters must have fears and weaknesses to be real and keep the reader engaged.

Writing fiction focuses on entertaining readers with a story about a character who has a goal to reach or a problem to solve. The story journeys the character and the reader through scene after scene of rising action with incredible stakes. The process forces the character to endure challenges, making the goal or problem solved super worth the struggle. But there’s a bonus: the character changes and grows into a better person. 

All the above is impossible to achieve if the character isn’t submerged in a cauldron of physical, mental, and spiritual difficulties. I’m not talking about a tepid dip, but a boiling bath of disaster. The genre doesn’t matter. All stories must contain rising tension with characters who face a high likelihood of failure. 

If a true hero or heroine is the character with the most to lose and the most to gain by obtaining the goal, then why place them in a suit of armor? They need a quick mind, courage, determination, and pitted against an antagonist who is stronger, smarter, and has more weapons.

Sometimes a writer fashions a character after a real person. All our character development comes from those whom we’ve met. Their behaviors are quirky, funny, sobering, filled with wisdom, and sometimes evil. But our characters aren’t real. That bears repeating: the characters in our minds are not real. They must endure the worst abyss in unpredictable, unexpected, and believable ways.

Even our beloved superheroes have protective shields with a few imperfections:
  • Superman feared kryptonite.
  • Spiderman feared running out of web fluid.
  • The Invisible Woman feared dust.
  • Wolverine feared magnets.
  • Hulk feared too much anger.
  • The Human Torch feared overheating.
  • Iron Man feared running out of batteries for his suit.

But none of those fears stopped the superhero from saving the world. Neither should a dose of reality stop the hero or heroine. They are motivated by something beyond themselves, a need to better the world and the people living there.

Do protective shields work for the writer? In short, no. We must do the work and face our fears and weaknesses to create a masterful story.

For those of us who write from a Christian worldview, does embracing our faith guarantee we won’t experience tough times? Absolutely not! God can’t change us unless He allows us to walk through His refining fire. The result builds our spiritual muscles. Just like our characters must build muscles that make them stronger physically, mentally, and spiritually.

Including a protective shield isn’t a character builder, so delete it from your character’s portfolio . . . unless the character lived in a protective shield before chapter one line one of your story, and that character learned the hard way that shields, suits of armor, or another person cannot protect them from surviving the world’s challenges.

Are you ready to remove suits of protection from your characters so readers experience a page-turner?


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 former 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. Thank you, DiAnn, for your unique approach to explaining an essential point of writing outstanding fiction. Your posts always provide a fresh way of looking at the basics.

  2. Great example of the need for vulnerability in our characters. Thanks, DiAnn

    1. Thanks, Kay, I believe our characters need to be vulnerable to resonate with our readers.