site stats
Wet Noodle Posse | Blog

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Character Acting out of Character Is Just Wrong

By Dianna Love (aka Rita Award-winner Dianna Love Snell

Consider a forty-five-year-old widow who had been a stay-at-home mom for the past 22 years, baking cookies for her school and volunteering for charity work. Her two sons are grown and have moved away. Add to the mix that she’s five-foot-six-inches and average weight and favorite past time is tending her roses

Would you expect a story to open with her dodging bullets in a gunfight? And doing a pretty awesome job of handling an AK-47? No?

Then you just stereotyped that woman in your mind. We all do it at any given time no matter how open minded we are. It’s natural to make assumptions based on appearances and general information.

So was this woman “acting out of character?”

Not if the situation has been properly set up and the character has true motivation for her actions.This gives us a couple things to think about. First – the character must stay in character. So if this woman has never handled a gun in her life, she is way out of character on two accounts – she’s shooting a weapon and with professional expertise.

But what if this woman had a life no one really knew about before she met and married her husband? What if she’d been in undercover work and had a traumatic situation that caused her to “disappear” from that world permanently – or so she’d thought? She goes on to become the consummate mother and wife, but not a meek one. Notice I never said she was meek, just gave her “exterior” description. Someone has found her and wants her dead, casting her in a dangerous situation she is actually trained to handle.

Something sent her on this path in life.To say she just woke up one day and decided to be a special ops agent is flimsy. So first figure out who your character is then look at the interesting ways you can use her abilities.

When creating a character, dig deeper than just how difficult her childhood was and why she has a chip on her shoulder. Find out what it was in her personality that became a “core belief.” Does she like people to stop by unexpectedly because her parents had an open home filled with family and visitors or is she wary of anyone who shows up unexpectedly because she never knew what kind of person would come looking for her criminal father?

I joke sometimes that I “take my characters out with me” when I leave the house. But it’s actually true. When you’re grocery shopping, ask what your character would buy that’s different from your tastes…and why? When you run into a strange person who either amuses or angers you, ask how your character would react to the same person.

When you plan a trip, ask if your character would be anal about every detail, prefer no schedule or a mix of both ways. The next time someone comes to your door soliciting, ask if your character would turn down the offer outright or decide to purchase. If she did purchase, what made the decision for her? What if the sales person had been a different gender or age?

The more you ask, the deeper you’ll go, the better the character. Ask the same question time and again until you hit on something that feels real. And if you plan to put this person in two conflicting environments, make sure this person will react the same regardless of the situation.

Keeping a character in character means consistent reactions.

Now go shopping and find something fun for your character.

Have you watched a character in a movie or television show act out of character? What character and why did it seem that this character was acting in contradiction to his/her role?

[First published in Arts & Expressions Magazine in 2006]

RITA Award-winner Dianna Love Snell is now writing as Dianna Love. She writes both contemporary and paranormal romantic suspense. Her next book – PHANTOM IN THE NIGHT – is a romantic suspense collaboration with NYT best seller Sherrilyn Kenyon being released June 10, 2008

For more on Dianna please visit and


At 9:47 AM, Blogger Mo H said...

Great post, Dianna. I think I'll take my characters to the ballet studio. No, I don't do the whole leotard and tights thing. My daughter does, and I spend a lot of time taking her to and from. I could ask would my character do a drop and run, or would she sit in the lobby and watch?

At 9:54 AM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

...and perhaps dream of dancing herself, either remembering when it had been she on toe shoes, or recalling how she wished always to learn but her parents could not afford the lessons.....

Is that what you mean about digging deeper, Dianna???

I loved this post, too. It speaks to that inner conflict that Carol mentioned in her Monday comment.

At 10:42 AM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

Ooh, what a great idea! I like the idea of inhabiting your character for a day, to think about how she'd react. I think that feeds into most writers' love of leading multiple lives. It sounds like a fast, intense way to do it. What would she wear in the morning? What kind of purse would she carry? What restaurants would she go to, and what would she order?

I have seen movies where characters acted out of character. That's usually the point where I yell, "Oh, COME ON!" Luckily we watch movies at home. I can't think of any examples now, though. I'm probably blocking.

At 11:35 AM, Blogger Dianna Love Snell said...

First - A big thanks to Diane Gaston and Maureen Hardegree for getting this uploaded today. I kept getting tossed off the blog. ;/

Hi Mo -
LOL - I can see your character sitting next to you making comments at the ballet.

thanks for stopping in!

At 11:37 AM, Blogger Dianna Love Snell said...

Diane -
Yes, that's exactly what I'm talking about. It's a fun exercise that gives us a chance to work on our stories when we aren't typing and allows us to find out the simplest things that might make a big difference in character.

Besides, I like having someone else with me when I get stuck grocery shopping. "g"
Thanks again for the help today.

At 11:44 AM, Blogger Dianna Love Snell said...

Hi Esri -

Yes, I yell at the tv too. "g" I'm willing to let someone step a little out of character if I think they are taking a move in the direction of their internal change, but the blatant - the writer just needed the character to do that - times make me crazy.

I bet you had fun figuring out the character for your book Bound To Love Her coming out this May. Want to share anything fun you learned about your character you didn't know at first.

Also, Diane - have anything interesting you want to share about developing your characters for the Vanishing Viscountess that just came out in January (which was Wonderful!)?

thanks, Dianna

At 12:35 PM, Blogger Gillian Layne said...

I'm working through revisions on my book now, the first I've finished, and so I'm having a BUNCH of What the Heck? moments.

In every chapter, especially the early ones (ah, the mess of it all!) I read bits of dialogue or action and think "Good heavens--why would he/she ever say/do that?" But I don't think I really knew my characters til the middle of the story.

Great post! And a lovely excuse to talk to myself while driving around ;)

At 1:36 PM, Blogger Dianna Love Snell said...

Hi Gillian -
Haha. The best thing about cell phones being invented is that everyone assumes you are talking "hands free" in the car. I think out loud all the time when I'm driving.

Congratulations on finishing your first book! Don't worry about those inconsistencies, because editing is so much easier. It's great that you're seeing them. Good luck on your submissions.

At 2:58 PM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

What a gal that Dianna is... You see how she plugged my book for me? There's a reason her last name is "Love." (That really is her maiden name, I believe. Her editor thought she was making it up.) "Love." Ask for her by name.

The thing I found out about Erin, my heroine in Bound to Love Her, is that she has a hell of a temper. One of my favorite moments in the book is when the dark elf Fellseth has her captive, and he asks her, "Do you know what you are, Erin?" And she screams into his face, "Yes! I'm the woman who won't be helping you!" Ooh. I get a little chill just thinking about it.

Gillian, it's totally normal to get to know your characters while writing the first draft. Congratulate yourself that you're able to spot the inconsistencies. You know what I have trouble with in my first draft? The romantic arc. I go back and think, "Where's the damn longing? This is BO-ring!" Then I put my lurve hat on and stuff it in. Some things we're good at immediately and some things we really have to work at. Luckily, they clean up all that blood on the pages before they print it.

At 4:29 PM, Blogger Gillian Layne said...

Esri--'lurve hat on and stuff it it.'

I am so first in line to buy your book. :)

At 4:37 PM, Blogger Gillian Layne said...

After I buy editing software, of course....

At 8:04 PM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

Also, Diane - have anything interesting you want to share about developing your characters for the Vanishing Viscountess that just came out in January (which was Wonderful!)?

Gee. Well, Tanner pretty much emerged in full personality in Innocence & Impropriety. His 'core belief' (love that idea, Dianna!) was that he could solve any problem with the power of his title and his wealth. So I had to strip him of the chance to do that, and make him fall on other resources. THAT one idea was the origin of the whole book. Tanner also depreciated his self worth and that quality played an important role in the story.

I think I played the 'what if' game with Tanner--What if this happened? What if that happened?

Marlena was born out of that 'what if game. What kind of heroine would make it necessary for Tanner to be stripped of his title and wealth?
Answer: A Viscountess on the run!

At 9:14 PM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

Great idea, Dianna, to wear our characters pants for the day. I'll have to try that next time I go to the grocery store.

And congrats, Gillian, for finishing your first book. It usually takes me half way through my first draft to feel like I know my characters, so I can relate.

At 9:15 PM, Blogger doglady said...

Hey, Dianna! Great post!! We won't tell anybody you take imaginary people on shopping trips with you. For the most part because I am pretty sure most of the people in this group either do it or are going to start.

This is a really great idea! My heroine, Addy, came to me pretty much full blown. Marcus has been a little harder to get a handle on, but I have recently had sort of a break through about him so I need to try this method out.

The Divine Ms. G will tell you that I was a big fan of Tanner in I & I and therefore was thrilled he got his own story.

At 8:04 AM, Blogger Dianna Love Snell said...

Hi All - Sorry I couldn't get back to the blog yesterday. Thanks so much for carrying on the discussion.

I got tossed off everytime I tried to come post. The internet and I have a hate/hate relationship on good day. "g" It's probably my lack of techno ability more than anything.

Esri -

Your "lurve" hat - I love it! Erin sounds like my kind of heroine. Really excited for your first book.

Yes, Love is my maiden name (NA Indian on one side of the family, but hard to tell with the blonde hair -eh? "g"). Thanks for the counter plug.


At 8:08 AM, Blogger Dianna Love Snell said...

Diane -

I loved that you stripped your hero Tanner of what he considered his power. That reminds me of one very good piece of advice a brilliant author - Haywood Smith - once gave me about the heroine in my first book who was on the run. Haywood said to either give the heroine all the tools she needs to survive...or nothing at all. I gave her nothing.

Thanks for reminding me of a great lesson.

At 8:10 AM, Blogger Dianna Love Snell said...

Hi Theresa and Doglady (I always smile over that moniker) -

Thanks for stopping by to visit. I do love all the great ideas that are shared here.



Post a Comment

<< Home

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]