As I mentioned in my last post, I was inspired by Rachel Vail‘s keynote at the SCBWI WWA conference to get to know my characters better. So yesterday, I sat down with the main character of my WIP for an interview. I find that character interviews are one of the best ways to learn more about the people that inhabit my stories. There’s something about the question-and-answer format that allows stuff I haven’t thought about consciously to come through.
To do a character interview, I open a Word doc and, in bold, type a question I want my character to answer, for example, “What are you most scared of?” Then, in regular font, I write my character’s answer. I try not to think as I do this, just let the words flow. Because of that, some really surprising information comes out of these interviews.
For example, yesterday I asked Joan, my MC, what she was most afraid of. She told me she was really scared of being attacked and raped, and because of that, she avoids walking alone at night and always carries the pepper spray her mom gave her. I had no idea! And, of course, I may use that information at some point to enrich my plot. Or maybe I won’t, and it will just help me understand where Joan’s coming from a little better.
Here are some standard questions I ask in a character interview:
How would you describe yourself?
How do you think other people would describe you?
What makes you happiest?
When are you most unhappy?
What frightens you the most?
Where do you think that fear came from?
How does this fear affect your life?
Can you tell me something about yourself that you’ve never told anyone else?
Is there anything I can do better in telling your story?
Often the answers to these generic questions will lead to other questions that are specific to my novel.
So if you want to get to know your characters better, try a character interview. Feel free to use my questions. You can also find a list of 100 interview questions here.
Have you ever done a character interview? If so, what’s your favorite question to ask your characters?