April 3, 2017

Quirky Sources to Add to Your Characterization

By DiAnn Mills

I live and breathe story—most writers do. And we’re always looking for ways to ensure our characters and their predicaments are exciting and unique. Some of the places we look can be a bit . . . different. But the exploration is worth it.

Here are a few areas in which I’ve found ways to add idiosyncrasies to character, plot, dialogue, setting, emotion, narration, body language, and symbolism. You might find your next plot twist there too.

Coffee, Tea, or Milk?
I admit my characters drink coffee. Usually black. But what about a tea drinker? What brand? Sugar or cream? Use a tea bag or steep the leaves? Visit a shop that carries tea and check out the buyers. You’ll find all sizes and ages. What if your character is a milk drinker? Whole milk or two percent? Your character could despise coffee, tea, is lactose intolerant and drinks only lemonade.

Grocery Store
Everyone needs to buy food, and most of us develop habits that stick throughout life. Does your character smell the pineapple? Squeeze a head of lettuce? Always buys two of each kind of fruit. Only selects organic products? Despises vegetables and replaces them with green apples? What about your character’s choice of candy—from gummy worms to dark chocolate? Does your character save the dairy and bakery department until last, or does the ice cream always melt by the time he/she gets to the checkout line?

Observe what is going on the next time you’re at a hair or nail salon. Women can have some crazy habits regarding their hair, fingers, and toes, everything from color to style. What about a woman at a hardware store searching for nails or plumbing supplies? Open up a character’s closet. Is it organized and tidy or a train wreck? Study those people at a family reunion. Who resembles whom and what mannerisms make them distinct?

Who doesn’t love a devoted dog, cat, or horse? Does your character have a hamster that keeps the owner up all night? A pot-belly pig that’s housebroken? An obnoxious parrot?

Mall Walkers
I used to think the only mall walkers were of the seasoned citizen variety, but not so. I see women pushing strollers and men joining them. Some of the walkers window-shop, sip coffee, chat on the phone, make sure they don’t work up a sweat, and (my personal favorite) pump their arms and legs as though heading for the Olympic gold.

Water Park
Preferably in the summer because the writer will want to participate in the fun. This is another place to snap a ton of pics. Who zooms down a water slide? Who’s the man who doesn’t want to get wet? Who’s there to show off his/her body? Who could care less how he/she looks—those enthusiasts just want to have fun.

Workout Facility
Sometimes this can be compared to a zoo. Need I say more?

What about a character who has a snake, parrot, iguana, or monkey pig for a pet? Tour your zoo. Take pics. A few of the animals might resemble your characters.

Distinct details about our stories can be found anywhere. Search out for real people in real situations. You never know what you might find.

How do you find distinct characters?
DiAnn Mills is a bestselling author who believes her readers should expect an adventure. She combines unforgettable characters with unpredictable plots to create action-packed, suspense-filled novels. 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. Library Journal presented her with a Best Books 2014: Genre Fiction award in the Christian Fiction category for Firewall. DiAnn is a founding board member of the American Christian Fiction Writers, a member of Advanced Writers and Speakers Association, Sisters in Crime, 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 where she continues her passion of helping other writers be successful. She speaks to various groups and teaches writing workshops around the country. DiAnn has been termed a coffee snob and roasts her own coffee beans. She’s an avid reader, loves to cook, and believes her grandchildren are the smartest kids in the universe. She and her husband live in sunny Houston, Texas. Her latest book Deep Extraction releases, today. DiAnn is very active online and would love to connect with readers on any of the social media platforms listed at

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