You may have noticed that I do a lot of character interviews. I won’t even try to deny it. I don’t even post all of them, so there’s even more than you imagined. Why? Character interviews are kind of my go-to device when I get stuck. Let me try to explain why…
Characters are difficult. At least, they should be. When they aren’t they run the risk of being flat. Who wants to read about flat characters that get along and do what the author tells them to? Apparently none of my critters do, that’s for sure.
As I go through the exercise of converting from third person to first, I find it challenging to keep everyone’s unique characteristics straight. There are character lists, descriptions, or whatever, but those are just as flat and boring in my opinion. I want to hear that spark, the fire that creates their voice. But how? How do I get that teased out of the dismal recesses of my brain and onto the screen?
For me, the answer is the character interview. I pluck the character out of the scene, and make them tell me about it. I start with a simple question, and just build on whatever they say. It’s not schizophrenic, I promise.
Let’s try an example. Let’s grab a character that we usually don’t get to see. How about Larinn? She’s is the daughter of the high priest in Mirian’s temple. She’s roughly 16 at the time of the story. Since daddy is the high priest, she’s a bit spoiled. (I won’t point out that Mirian is, for all intents and purposes, the surrogate daughter of the prophet. It makes her upset when anyone insinuates things like that.) We know that she isn’t crazy about Mirian, and we know that she *is* crazy about Terrent, a guard that arrived at the temple to escort Mirian back to the duke’s castle.
I promise that I am making this up as I go, and have never really considered looking at Larinn before now. Let’s peek in at her as she re-enters the temple after Neijen scolds her for being outside. (That is ret-conned in, btw. It occurs in chapter 2, just as Neijen comes out to see Mirian off.) I will, as always, be J. She can be L.
J: Larinn, do you have a minute?
L: No. Apparently I have other things to be doing right now. [she looks wistfully out the door as she slowly closes it]
J: You like him, don’t you?
L: Who, Terrent? [shrug] I don’t know. He’s really cute. And strong, did you see that? He’s a captain, too. I bet he isnt’ afraid of anything. When I come of age, I’m going to go to the city. I bet I can get work as a healer somewhere and meet one of the guards.
J: He’s here for Mirian though, isn’t he?
L: Hrmph. She gets all the luck. And why? It isn’t going to do her any good! She’s so stuck on herself she didn’t even notice him. She’s a healer, so she’s special and she gets to have good looking guys come and pick her up. It’s not fair! And do you know what’s even worse?
J: I can’t imagine…
L: I have to do all her stupid chores while she’s gone. Dad told her that I would do all her cleaning and stuff. All she does is mope around the temple wiping stuff down and straightening stuff up. If she didn’t do it, I don’t think anyone would notice. Except her. Larinn, your robe is torn. Your offensive and nasty and the goddess hates you! I’m glad she’s gone. In fact, I hope she stays gone.
J: You don’t mean that.
L: Why not? There’s other healers here. In fact, with her gone, maybe the goddess will make me a healer. Wouldn’t that just burn her when she came back. She wouldn’t be able to look down her nose at me then.
J: But that would mean you have to do her chores forever.
J: If she stays gone, that is.
L: No. I’ll just tell Daddy and he’ll make someone else do it. I’m already busy doing my work. He’ll find someone else that needs something to do.
J: OK. Well, I guess I should let you get to work. Sounds like you have a lot to do.
L: That’s fine. I’m going to go get some more sleep though. [sigh] He sure was cute, wasn’t he? And he smelled good, too… [walks away]
Is it my best work? Perhaps not. I have never really given that character much thought, to be honest. All of that was just ‘seat of the pants’ type stuff. I think it is consistent with how she was portrayed, though. It also gives us something to work off of. We knew she didn’t like Mirian, but we got some distinct thoughts on why and how she doesn’t like her. Her quote of Mirian from Chapter 1 may not be quite a direct quote, but I am certain that it sums up how she (and probably others) think Mirian talks to them.
We also get the comments about Mirian looking down her nose at Larinn, and a bit of jealousy about Mirian’s healing ability. All of this is good stuff that may not have came out during the initial writing. If this character was seen more, we could use this as a building point to give her some good lines in dialog, as well as some internal thought or actions to show how she feels about Mirian. For that matter, we also get to see what she thinks about Terrent specifically, and the guards in general.
And that is why I do the character interviews. It *forces* me to think in the character’s voice. I can’t skim over their thoughts, summarize their actions, or any of those other author-ly cheating mechanisms. I have to answer for her, and I have to be consistent with the character.
Of course, most of my characters start getting mouthy and rebellious by the time the interview is over. I’ve been yelled at, dismissed as irrelevant, and had my life threatened by my characters. Because after all, if they aren’t difficult, they aren’t interesting.
Now I turn it over to you, my dear readers. Do you do character interviews? I’d love to see what you have. Drop one in the comments or, even better, a direct link to one of your blog posts showing a character interview. Maybe we can get an interview chain started, where we challenge each other to interview one of their own characters in such a way that it brings out something that the author previously didn’t know about that character. It doesn’t have to be a main character, even. Here are a few challenges, since I have met these characters already. I obviously am not going to force anyone, but these are authors/readers, and a character of theirs that I’d like to meet in an interview format:
Lindsey: I’d like to hear from Leigh’s Dad. I bet he has quite a few interesting thoughts about TGW.
Mysti: I was going to say Bax, but I don’t feel we’ve really met. How about Lilly? She’d be interesting to hear from.
Pam: Your story is hard. One of the characters I wish I had spent more time with was Talking Horse. There’s your challenge.
Stef: Chris. I want to hear what Chris is thinking as he’s walking away. Catch him on the elevator.
Those are only the ones that I feel qualified to issue a challenge to. Obviously I would love to hear from others as well. Character interviews can be great learning tools if you let them take you out of your own mind and into your character. I promise that if you let it, it will open up a side of your character’s you didn’t know was there.
At least, it does for me, every time I do it.
Looking forward to your replies.