Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Character Development - Secondhand Character Interviews

It's no secret that I prefer character-driven plot, both as a writer and as a reader.  I fully admit that my skill at designing plot is far inferior to my penchant for character design.  Plot is my weakness.  The only way I can make it work is with my characters' full support.  And sometimes they are STUBBORN.  Go figure.

Thank God my friends are all as sane as I am.

Since I am so fond of discovering characters, it's no surprise that I am a big fan of character interviews.  In Outlining Your Novel: Mapping Your Way to Success (which I highly recommend)K.M. Weiland provides a few examples of these sorts of interview questions, etc., which can provide us with real insight into our characters and thus help us portray them as consistently (or, as I see it, accurately), as we can.

Character interviews, when they work best, allow authors to really immerse themselves into the mindsets of their characters.  When tackling a character interview, I discover certain facts about my own characters, obviously:  "My name is Janet, not Jane you ridiculous woman!"  Those facts are important, of course, but perhaps more importantly, I also begin to understand how they talk, how they think, whether they chew their nails when they are nervous or refuse to make eye contact when we speak.  Knowing these sorts of details, even if they never make it into the final manuscript, helps me to produce prose suitable to the character's personality.

There are many, many good character development tools out there. Weiland provides an excellent outline in Chapter 7 of her book.  Recently I've also used 100 Character Development Questions for Writers, which has enough in-depth information to help writers really delve into the heart of their characters.  But for all of the things that are available, I had trouble finding something that I thought would help me with a little problem I tend to encounter in my character development.

The problem with interviewing your characters is that they have a tendency to talk only about themselves.  And why wouldn't they?  I'm asking about my protagonist, am I not?  It makes sense for her to talk about herself.  Unfortunately, I sometimes get a very skewed perspective of who a character THINKS he or she is.  The reality of who she is or can become is sometimes hidden behind a wall of insecurity or even arrogance.  So how can we get around this wall?

I considered, therefore, how I might utilize a series of interview questions written FOR one character ABOUT another character.  What does the average inhabitant of my world think of my protagonist/antagonist?  What do the antagonist and protagonists think about each other?  What does the lover really think of her beloved?

So, I present to you my work in progress:  a worksheet for performing character interviews, secondhand.  If you use the list and find it useful (or completely useless), let me know! Link backs make me happy, and a happy Amalie is an Amalie who isn't tearing the wings off her fairies.  Save a fairy.  Add a link back.

Also feel free to submit your own questions.  If I like them, I'll add them and credit you with a link back.  The one great thing about the online writing community is that it's incredibly friendly.  Let's continue to work together to make ALL of our stories the best they can possibly be.

Character Development:  Secondhand Character Interview Worksheet

For this exercise, pick a character which you'd like to know better.  Then, write (in first person) from the POV of a different character in the world of your story.  You might write as your antagonist about your protagonist (or vice versa).  You might write as the "best friend" about your protagonist.  You might write as "random hot dog stand owner" about the antagonist.  Whatever you can do to get out of the head of the character in question.  The point here is to get to the heart of a character from the perspective of those around them.  Write as much or as little as you want, and feel free to dive off of these starters into other questions or even rants/raves from characters.

Individual Perspectives
1.  How did you meet [character]?  What were your first impressions?
2.  How long have you known [character]?  Would you consider yourself friends?  Enemies?  How would you describe your past together?
3.  What (good or bad) physical trait would you say is [character's] most distinguishing feature?  Why?
4.  What one thing most annoys you about [character]?
5.  What one thing is most endearing about [character]?
6.  What is the one thing you'd love to do with or to [character]?
7.  What is the one thing you fear most with regard to [character]?
8.  What would you do if [character] died tomorrow?
9.  What would be different for you (or for your world) if [character] had never been born?
10.  What one thing do you wish you understood about [character]?

Community Perspectives:
1.  What is [character]'s role within the community?
2.  How is [character] seen within the community?  Would you say [character] is well-liked? Despised? Feared?
3.  Who would you send me for more information about [character's] place in the community at large?

Eternally in Progress - Post suggestions in the comments!  

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