DiAnn Mills is a mentor of mine through Christian Writers Guild’s Craftsman class. They just renamed it to Fiction Intensive. The book, Dance of Character and Plot is a primer for writing fiction. I recently talked with DiAnn about the book. It’s a great book for beginning novelists. It’s easy to understand and there are great exercises at the end of each chapter. Thank you DiAnn, for being a great teacher and a great woman!
Donna: Why another book about writing?
DiAnn: I wanted to write a simple book on how to write a novel. Something simple that would give you resources like how to write dialogue, and here are a couple of resources to help you with that. #2 I have all these workshops – and maybe I’ve massaged them a bit for a blog – but I’ve always wanted to take all those and throw them into a ‘how-to’ book.
Donna: What would you say are the most important elements to writing a good novel?
DiAnn: Characterization. Always character. Think about the books you love. Think about the characters that you remember – anything from Gone with the Wind to Divergent. It’s the characters who I care about. I guess that’s why I called it The Dance of Character & Plot. Because it is a dance.
Donna: That was my next question. Why did you call it a dance?
DiAnn: Because that’s what you do. You take this person – their quirks and their personality, writing their backstory – all of that – here’s all their strengths, their fears – and the challenge is they’ve already selected the ten people who are going to the moon. What is in my personality that will allow them to take eleven – or what is in my personality that one of the others can be replaced? It works together. My problems and your problems are different because of who we are. How you approach them and how I approach them depend on who you are.
I’m reading a fabulous book by Mark Divine. He’s a former Navy seal. The book is called The Unbeatable Mind. That sounds like an odd book for a woman to be reading, but what it’s about is the warrior mindset – whether you’re a man or a woman. What a warrior does to prepare themselves physically, but they have to be prepared mentally, psychologically for whatever happens to them.
The odd thing is – while I was reading The Unbeatable Mind, I’m also reading Max Lucado’s Just Like Jesus. So, even though Mark Divine himself pulls things from transcendental meditation and Christianity – he’s all over – in a way – when I read Max Lucado’s book, I thought – this is as a Christian warrior. I’m reading it for me – so I’ll always be prepared for the next challenge. But I’m also reading it for my characters who I want to be stronger.
Donna: I noticed you dedicated the book to the Craftsman students. How many Craftsman classes did you teach?
DiAnn: I think it was nine total. I came in on the third class. I taught 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 & 11. And I loved it. It just that now – I felt God saying “That season is over, do more private mentoring.” I have so many Craftsman who are wanting more and I want to help them, but not if I’m continually taking on more students. And you always have students who try your patience – or challenge you with a few things. This way I can be selective.
Donna: I also noticed that at the end of each chapter you have what you called “stretching exercises.”
DiAnn: Dancers stretch. I believe in learning by doing. When I teach, I give exercises. I think the exercises help the reader/writer take the techniques and think how it will apply to them. If it doesn’t apply to whoever is reading the book, then it’s useless. It’s very similar to putting together interview questions for a radio or TV. Every question that is close to you has to mean something to the viewer. No matter how you are or they are – it’s still all about them. You have to make it all about them.
Donna: You talked about writing about your most painful experience. What is the benefit of that?
DiAnn: When we explore our own emotions, they’re deep and usually very painful. We don’t always look at our character as having to go through the same process. If you take that exercise, and transfer that process into your character, real words, real phrasing, it’s deep. It shows a depth of character that hasn’t seen before. You know, it’s like the one scene I remember from Gone With the Wind, Scarlett eats the radishes and her stomach couldn’t handle it. It hurt me that the South, Scarlett and her family had fallen to such horrible hunger and starvation – and all the things she’d done – yes for herself, but for them – but to see her still hungry and digging in the dirt for radishes. It had an effect.
Whenever we see something – blood or someone in pain, it’s easy to feel for them. But when you can put the emotions to that level, it really works. Yesterday morning, we were listening to the local radio station and they were playing about this coach. The team had come in second. Some of the kids were crying. The coach gave them this fabulous pep talk. “You are winners. You did this. You did that.”
(Donna mentioned about the Little League World Series.)
It’s what makes us cry – not talking about funerals or things, but the deep stuff it’s the emotions that touch us.
Donna: So, this is an overall, not a specialty book. Is there anything more you’d like to say about it?
DiAnn: I think that beg writers are overwhelmed in the process, I think I want to write a novel, how do I begin? I think that this lays a foundation, especially with how important character is. They can finish it. It’s not long. Where can I go from here? I love, from my end, a good book on scene and structure, but that is not a book I’d recommend to beginning writers at all. I think they’d get lost in the jungle. They wouldn’t understand the techniques. So, this is a beginner book.
Donna: And you have a huge resources section in the back.
DiAnn: Yes I had fun with that.
If you want a simple and easy book to understand how to write a novel, then this book is for you. Dance with Character and Plot. Available almost everywhere. You can learn more about DiAnn by visiting her website here.