Interviewing Your Characters

Interviewing Your Characters

Upon inspiration of the essay by Tina Jens in ON WRITING HORROR, I have created a character sketch I am using much like an interview sheet. In my mind’s eye I invite my fictional characters into my office for an interview. So far it has worked like a charm. My questions are pretty much standard but the difference is it is not me who is answering the questions. They are.  My approach is that this is their story and I want to know them as I would an old friend from high school (per suggestion by Tina Jens.)

I had created a list of characters using my previous method of simply coming up with them as I wrote my new novel but the process was tedious and boring. Following Tina’s suggestions, I created a new character sketch to get to know my characters for who they are, separate from me. My protagonist, who I had previously named Sandy, was a middle aged woman and I had given her blond hair with gray streaks and gray eyes much like my own, was all wrong.

The woman who walked in my office was entirely different, even her name. She was younger, tougher with dark hair and eyes. Her entire persona is one of a lonely but self-assured widow on her own and looking for a change. While Sandy was also looking for a change she was married and more dependent upon her husband.

My second “interview” was with my evil, sadistic antagonist. I was nervous about the interview because this character was to be the epitome of evil complete with horrific appearance and behavior. The “man” who entered my office was again, very different. I found him compelling and alluring with a definite darker side concealed beneath his attractive appearance. At the same time, he was forthright with a definite sense of humor about the story that is to come.

I have four more interviews to do with my previous version of this story still in the back of my mind. What will become of this story? I have no idea. It’s truly in the hands of these fascinating new characters. One thing for certain, I won’t be bored!

Thanks for visiting my site. I would love to hear your thoughts…

11 Replies to “Interviewing Your Characters”

  1. Great way of working. I use fact sheets for my characters and often add things that are not part of the story and never come out in the process. But they told me 😉

    1. Hi Christoph, thanks for reading. You said you, “add things that are not part of the story and never come out in the process.But they told me.” Not sure I understand what you mean. I’m wondering if these are things that came out, later on, when you were writing. If so, this happens to me as well. I like the adage that our characters are dictating their story to us, we are merely the stenographers. 🙂

  2. I use a very similar process. I have a list of 172 questions, and I take each main character to task on them, with 30 minute free-writing exercises in their voice, from first-person, for every question. Some are designed just to provide examples of small-talk, but most are questions about their fundamental values and attitudes. Oftentimes, these exercises work their way into the books via dialogue or internal monologue as the characters explore and struggle through the story. What a great exercise! But yeah, villains. If they’re not in “just for the evulz” they can become a real challenge to write. Sometimes, I scare myself! Anyway, keep up the great work!

    1. Hi Michael, thanks for reading. Wow, “172 questions,” now that’s thorough! I really like your idea of “small-talk.” Sometimes on the 2nd draft, I’ll revisit a scene where I’m not sure about the character’s response, something about it just doesn’t feel right. But then, I’ve also come across that after a multitude of revisions. Maybe your idea would help….

      “Sometimes, I scare myself!” Awesome! I think an author can judge the quality of their writing by the emotions they evoke within themselves. Or, at least I hope so. 🙂

  3. I think one of the systemic problems indie authors have is they don’t take the proper time or approach to developing their characters and/or story before writing. Good advice.

  4. Hi Chris, interesting thought, but I don’t know if I’d call that a “systemic” Indie issue as much as a writer issue. There are some good Indie Authors out there whose characters are well developed and engaging. I’ve also come across some traditionally published authors that are shallow but commercially viable. Maybe the difference is between those who take shortcuts and those who have too much pride in their writing to do so.

  5. I think some authors feel so pressured to get the next book out that they don’t always take the time needed to really get to know their characters or even their book for that matter. When I worked in author publicity I was always concerned when authors didn’t really know what to say about their characters and books.

    1. Hi Donna, thanks for your comment and that’s really the issue I’m facing right now. The urgency of getting that second book out. 🙂

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