Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Character Interview

Thanks for all the wonderful comments you've been leaving on these character posts. I'm so glad they've been helpful. I'm in the process right now of fleshing my characters out for my new story ... I'm trying a middle grade fantasy, using a thirteen year old boy for my main character. I haven't writen in the male POV yet, so I'm really spending a lot of time getting to know my guy before I start writing him. I want his voice to come over in just the right way.

I also have a major antagonist in this story and I'm spending just as much time figuring out all her motivations as much as my protagonist's. One way I do this is by putting my main characters through an interview. Now, I know not everyone does this ... and I, in no way, insist you can't have good characters if you don't. What works for me, may not work for you, and vice ersa. I'm just sharing with you MY way of doing it, in case it helps.

The beauty of storytelling, is that there is no one right way to do it. Writers figure out what works best for them and they use it. For me, after writing five novel length stories, I've found that THIS is the way that works best for my stories and characters.

So on to the interview:

1. What does he/she look like? How does he talk? How does she act physically? Any mannerisms?
2. What is his background? Where was he born? What were her parents like? How was he raised? Where did he go to school? What level education?
3. What is her job? What special skills does her job require and how will they affect her role in the story? What about hobbies and talents learned from them?
4. What is her family? Parents? Husband? Her relation to him? Children? Relation? Why not kids? Divorced? Why? Why not?
5. What kind of home?
6. Did she have a significant event in her past that shaped her?
7. What would he die to defend?
8. What is his most likeable trait? Least likeable?
9. What trait does she respect most in others?
10. What does she want to be doing 20 years from now?
11. Who are his best friends?
12. How does he feel toward the opposite sex?
13. What is his deepest secret?
14. What does she like best about her life? Like least?
15. What is his main problem at beginning of story?
16. What is ideal happy ending for this character?
17. Why should readers like or relate to him?
18. Why should reader care about this character?

Some other aspects of a character to keep in mind:

and beliefs-needs-motives-dreams-fears-stressors

These are just a collection of questions I've gathered from different places.

Why does this method of intense character development work for me?? Because the more I know about what makes my character tick, the more twists and turns I can develop within my plot while I'm writing that first draft. For example, I did a character sketch for my antagonist with my new WIP, and I've been outlining the actual plot so I know where I want my story to go. But I really want to make my villain  awesome, so I went a step further and put her through these questions, plus the Triangle of Traits and I realized my plot is different than I expected. Once I got to know my villainous vixen better, I discovered there was more to my story than I anticipated. 

Now, I realize you can arrive at the same conclusion from writing the first draft by the seat of your pants ... and hey, if that works best for you, bravo! For me, I love being in charge of that first draft and throwing my developed characters together to see how they react with each other. 

On a side note, lots of book birthdays recently! So many new stories released and others on their way out very soon!! Any you're particularly excited for? What about character questions? Are there any you like to ask that I've missed? What methods do you take when developing your characters?

Also, still time to get in for Colene Murphey's Luck O' the Irish St. Patty's Day Blogfest! Click for the details.

Tune in next time for an in depth discussion on the villain. Muhahahahahahaha ..........
This is me when someone keeps interrupting my writing. I need a sign to hang on my office with her picture on it that says,  "Disturb me, and suffer morbid, gruesome consequences."


salarsenッ said...

I like how you mention that the more you know about your character's innards, the more twists you can incorporate within scenes and the overall plot. Great point. It is so important to really know them. Spending time with each before I begin writing has become a great exercise for me.

Jen Daiker said...

I like your picture idea, that is something I need to incorporate into my daily writing, a sign that warns everyone to step off.

I love the questions that you pose for each character. It really helps to understand them. I think I'm a little quirky with this. I write my rough draft then I follow with an outline, a character collage, and answering the questions. It helps because they've talked to me during those 60-80K words and I feel like we have a better sense of one another.

Trisha Leaver said...

Writing from the male POV is a blast. I completely agree that you need to take your character's gestures and manners into account when formulating your initial character sketch. These small, not-so-insignificant quirks can reveal an amazing amount about an MC.

welcome to my world of poetry said...

What you write is most interesting. I never knew until I started blogging and followed authors just how much writing a book entailed.


Florence said...

Love this series of posts.
Can't say I can pin down my method, but I do keep a separate doc file for the characters of all my books. Helps much when I begin a story.

I've also been known to borrow some of the characters from one story to use for another.

Fun stuff ... characters are :)

LTM said...

ooo, I love Maleficent!!! :D And you're right w/these interviews. The better you know them, the easier they are to write! :o) <3

Roland D. Yeomans said...

I am a true fan of this insightful series of yours. Come check out my Ides of March entry. I receive my obit from the ghost of Raymond Chandler with Hibbs, the cub with no clue, sniffling. Have a great Tuesday, Roland

McKenzie McCann said...

I agree that there's no right way to write a story. Even if there was, sometimes the right way is not necessarily the best way. People should do whatever works best for them.

Norma Beishir said...

This is very similar to the character blogs that William, Beth, Shelly and I do. Excellent idea!

Paul Joseph said...

Great character questions. Obviously, we can't include every little breath of life a character has experienced, but they are fascinating to think about and helpful in understanding their motivation.

Looking forward to your thoughts on the villain!

Donna Hole said...

I haven't written a character interview. But I do write character profiles. I write best in the 3rd pov, so I do a basic word vomit/info dump of everything I know about a character.

Some of those have been as long as 10 pages (for a MC). Sometimes writing the mini-story helps me keep my character in character. I probably answer most of these questions with my profile though.

A good technique. No, no one criteria works for all authors, but knowing your own style sure is helpful. And knowing others use a version of your style is invaluable.


Sophia Richardson said...

I like doing first person interviews with my characters about the big questions: what do you fear (conflict), what do you want people to know about you (strengths), what do you hide from people (weaknesses), what five adjectives sum you up (general personality traits, identifying info. or hobbies/career, shows priorities), what is your greatest regret/triumph (potential secret to get blown open, personality traits) etc.?
- Sophia.

Hannah Kincade said...

I don't like character interviews. It doesn't help me and I feel like I'm wasting time. I'm all about investigating motivations and weaknesses but I like the majority of that to come up in the story, if it's necessary to the story. For me, if I think to hard about all of these things, what they look like...etc. my writing rings false. But that's just me.

Carla said...

I really enjoyed this post! I love character interviews, but I like to have an idea of the characters and the plot before I interview. I also like to leave a lot of room for additional questions as new situations confront the character. I think your last question (Why is the character important to the reader?) is really important, and one that needs a lot of attention. It relates to audience...what kind of reader will appreciate the character? Great post!


Cally Jackson said...

That's a fantastic list of questions, PK! Like you, I prefer to know my characters inside and out before diving into my first draft. Some of theaexqueations will come on very handy when I start planning my next book!