17 May 2012

A character interview

Character Interviews by Isa Byrne @ www.isabyrne.com
In my workshop last weekend with Emily Maguire we spent at least half our time on CHARACTER, and with good reason.  "If", she said, and I'm paraphrasing, "your character is not compelling enough what is going to pull your reader through the book?"

A compelling character is a complex one.

This made me stop and think.  Are my characters really complex?  I think my main one is, but are the others, or are they just there for her to bounce words off?  Do they have their own story arcs, even if I'm not actually writing their tales?

It's the "iceberg rule".  You only write about 10%, but the rest of the 90% has to be there to support the words you put down on paper (or electrons as the case may be).

One way to think in a detailed way about your characters is to interview them, either formally through a series of set questions, or to write it out, as if they were being interviewed by a therapist/priest/detective/reporter.  If you're looking for a set of questions, try these ones by K. M. Weiland (plus her other posts, which all seem outstanding).

A few extra questions suggested by Emily that I found useful were "what is the character most ashamed of" and "why does their best friend/partner love them".  What great questions!  These are the sorts of things that can drive your character's actions, even if they're never mentioned in the story.  The first question might be especially good for a hero, and the second for your bad guy; you need to be able to relate to them both, and this is a way to do it.

The other thing Emily said was you need to know your character, really know them.  You might be standing in a queue and someone cuts in ahead of you; how would your character react in this situation.  What if you're on a bus and there's a crying baby; what would they do?  Now, these questions might not be appropriate if your character is on another planet (as mine is) but you get the idea.

So, have you done an interview for your characters?  And do you know how they would react in a given situation?



Amanda Fanger said...

Isa, Great post again! I love this idea of interviewing your characters. I'd heard of this before, but the specific situations and questions that you pose here are really great! I'm going to have to do this soon!

Isa @ IsaByrne IndividualChic said...

Thanks for the comment Amanda. I found it really helpful, but I could only do it properly after I'd already written the characters for some time.

You can have an idea about them when you start, but you can't really know them until they've had some adventures.