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Wet Noodle Posse | Blog

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Interviewing Your Characters: Getting Down to the Nitty Gritty

Hey, how’s your day going? My computer at work has been on the fritz, and my day has been hectic, but I’ve finally been able to carve out some time to post my blog. I’ll get to questions this evening, so if you post a comment, don’t think I’m ignoring you if you don’t hear back until tonight.

Enough rambling… Today’s topic: Interviewing Your Characters—Getting Down to the Nitty Gritty.

One of my favorite, and most successful, methods of getting to know my characters is to interview them. Especially if I’ve hit a rough patch in my manuscript, or if I get to a point where I feel my character and I aren’t communicating as well as we should. As we know, communication is the key to a good (or bad) relationship. If you’re not communicating with your characters, how can you tell their story?

Whenever I start to feel out of touch with my characters, there’s one tried and true method that works for me.

Interviewing/Talking with them.

There are two different tactics you can take: the serious, professional interview, complete with notepad and pen or the casual, “two friends” talking approach.

I’ve sat down at the kitchen table, questions jotted down on a notepad, to talk to my hero. It says a lot when I ask a question and he looks away, choosing not to make eye contact with me. There have been times when I’m driving down the road, chatting with my heroine like two friends on a road trip. I’ve also sat next to my hero, watching the waves rush the South Carolina shore as we talk about why we may have hit a wall in his story.

The key word here is “why”.

In order to bring your characters to life for the reader, you have to know your characters to the depths of their soul. A wise friend once told me that we must peel back the layers to get to the juicy part of what makes my hero unique. Talking to my characters (interviewing them) helps me get to the core of what makes them tick.

I’ll ask questions like:

Why is my hero behaving in a certain way? What are his dreams? Why are those dreams so important to him? Why does he like/dislike a certain person, or job, color, or food, etc. Why is he balking at the task I’ve placed before him? Why does he get so frustrated when the heroine does something?

I may pop open a soda, envisioning my heroine doing the same. Is it a diet soda? If yes, is she watching her weight? Is she diabetic? If it’s a beer, that may say something completely different about her. And I’d consider what that may be.

As funny as this may sound… yes, the first time I tried this while driving to the grocery store, I admit that I felt a little weird talking to an empty passenger seat… it works. Well, it works for me.

My characters are people. Living breathing people. At least, in my eyes and heart they are. And hopefully for my readers, too.

So, sit down and have drink with your characters tonight. Imagine your heroine sitting on your kitchen stool while you wash your dishes. Bummer that she can’t wash them for you, huh?  Invite your hero for a walk around your neighborhood, or for a chat by the fire.

You’ll be surprised how easy the conversation will come to you. And by how much your character will wind up sharing. Let me know how it goes. I’ll check back to see your results.


At 3:30 PM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

Ooh, I like that imagery, Pris--peeling away the outer layers to get to the juicy parts!!

Again, you said "the core." Yesterday Dianna mentioned "the core belief."

Maybe if we 'interview' our characters long enough, we'll find the core and I'll just bet that writing the rest of the ms will become a whole lot easier.

At 5:36 PM, Blogger Mo H said...

I tried this today while I was walking, Pris, and it really worked. I didn't actually speak out loud because I didn't want to scare anyone walking in the park, but I discovered a new facet to my character. Thanks for the tip!

At 5:37 PM, Blogger Delle Jacobs said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 5:43 PM, Blogger Delle Jacobs said...

Sorry- I'll get it right this time.

A lot of times I've sat down with my notebook and written, "Okay, Joe (Jess, Joesphine, whoever) why aren't we communicating? You're getting stubborn on me and that must mean you don't like the way things are going."

Then I let Joe Whomever give me an answer in his own words.

Sometimes Joe is really stubborn and says something like, "Fine. Everything's just fine. Don't know what you're talking about."

"Oh yes you do. Was it when I had you jump overboard? Thought you said you could swim just fine."

"Don't like being cold is all."

"Funny thing how it didn't bother you when you were up 12,000 feet in that hot air balloon."

That was different."

See how we're starting to get somewhere? Joe will inevitably tell me something I didn't know before.


At 7:02 PM, Blogger doglady said...

I have heard of this technique before, but never really thought about trying it. Not that I worry about driving around talking to any empty seat. My neighbors think I am a bit odd anyway. Keeps the riff raff away.

I do like this idea, however, so I think I am off to interview Marcus and Addy. I don't think I have actually thought of my characters' cores, at least not in that way. I need to give this some thought.

THANKS!!! This writing thing becomes more fun every day!

At 9:26 PM, Blogger Gillian Layne said...

It is fun, isn't it? Thank God--the rest of "life" so often isn't.

Hey--my hero tells me the brother he worships wasn't always so perfect. Eureka! And all over a cup of lemon berry tea... wait til I break out the bourbon ;0)

At 10:17 PM, Blogger doglady said...

Only my friend, Gillian, would get her character loaded to interview him. Now THAT is suffering for your art. Go, Gillian!

At 8:01 AM, Blogger Terry Odell said...

You mean some authors don't talk to their characters? I thought that was standard (guess I've got to get out more). Heck, I even auditioned a couple of my characters -- I've posted their interviews on my website under the 'free reads' section. I learned some good stuff.

At 8:57 AM, Blogger KERRY ALLEN said...

Terry, I love the idea of "auditioning" characters. What fun!

I "told" one of my secondary characters I was going to have to kill him because he was in the way when my villain needed to do his villain thing, and that secondary character, who has always seemed like such a nice boy, revealed a whole 'nother side of himself. Needless to say, he survived, in no small part because now I have to tease out the story behind his darker side...

At 10:05 AM, Blogger Prisakiss said...

Gillian and Mo, it's great to hear that interviewing work for you. I'm anxious to hear how the bourbon goes, Gillian. :-)

Dianna, it's that "core" that I find hard to get to sometimes. I think in part because I tend to hold myself back. Talking with my characters gives me some release as well.

Doglady, hearing that your neighbors find you a bit odd, makes you sound more interesting to me!! :-)

Have fun with your characters, hopefully they'll play nice.



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