Write It–Interviewing Characters

I’m re-posting this article that was originally on my other blog, Bonjour Bellingham. I wrote this as a promotion piece for a self-published novel, Agnes & Yves (which is no longer available since I would like to publish the novel through the traditional route).

Kate Hepburn

I knew that I could use my years as a journalist in fiction writing.  True, fiction and journalism have things in common such as doing the research and giving the facts (who, what, when, where and how), but have you ever thought of interviewing your characters?

That’s right, treat your characters like real people and invite them for an interview. Think of all the dirt you could get from a character’s confession.  Think of all the juicy back story details you could get from probing your character like Barbara Walters does with those investigative interviews.  Dig, baby, dig for information that will enrich your short fiction and novels.

I’m not a fan of including huge chunks of back story in novels (yawn), however, only the author needs to know the back story and you do need it to create subtext.  I know that there are real flesh and blood humans who shout out their back stories to anyone who will stand by and listen, but please don’t create characters like that.

Imagine going on a date when your object of affection goes through a re-birthing process over an expensive dinner.  You probably won’t date that person a second time. It’s the same for characters, your readers won’t have the patience to delve into the deep subconscious of your characters unless they practice psychotherapy as a profession or have are a triple Scorpio with a cluster of planets in their 8th house.

Dole out back story a little at a time and dole out the pieces you gleaned from interviewing your character bits at a time. Use this information to flesh out your character, to create motivations, subterfuge, and escape mechanisms (we all have those).  Use this information to create your characters’ usual mode of operation and to build conflict with other drawn-out characters.  But even with all this baggage don’t create unlikable characters.  Give even your “evil” characters some redeeming qualities.

I know that coming up with interview questions proves challenging at times.  So here are a few to get you started.

  • Where and when were you born?
  • What is your astrological sign? (You can make up charts for your characters)
  • Who are your parents?
  • What is your relationship like with your parents, siblings, cousins?
  • Where did you go to school? What was that like?
  • What’s your life ambition or cause?
  • What’s your favorite color, food, music, movie, etc…? What’s your least favorite?
  • Pet peeves?
  • What type of people do you date and why?
  • What are your biggest life challenges?
  • If you could be anyone who would you be?
  • What is your most painful memory?
  • What is your most joyful moment?

This list will help you to know your characters inside out.  Once you know your characters, you can create the conflicts and the plot.  You can use this information while working on your various drafts too.  You’ll know what is believable for your characters and anything that won’t ring true.

By the time you complete a novel, you will know your characters anyway and they will feel like real people.  So why not start the process before you even write the first word or cast a literary spell over your readers?

You can interview any character from space alien to zombie, to vampire, to animal or human.  This process works for any genre.  So get out your notebook and your tape recorder and get to work.

I’m an author of several unpublished books, a creativity coach, and a practicing astrologer. If you would like to learn from my triumphs and mistakes, sign up for a session through Metaphysics 4 Everyday Living or Whole Astrology.

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