Workshop Wednesday: Are Your Characters Right For The Job? The Weird Things That Happened When My Characters Got Interviewed

It’s that time of week again! Today no tea or confusing rhetoric needed. We’re talking character development in the form of character interviews.

And my question for you today is: Are your characters qualified for the job?

After all, we wouldn’t let a surgeon operate on someone if they had no background in medicine. But we writers often don’t check to see if a character has everything they need for the story, or in some cases for those of us who hardcore pants our way through drafts, check to see if our characters have a pulse! (Sadly, I can personally attest to this. :()

Now you might be wondering why the heck this is even a thing, but hey role-playing is a legit thing. Writing fiction in a way is kind of just one big role-play if you think about it.

I’ll be fair, even if you had all the character development swag in the world, there’s no way you could anticipate all the snags you’ll hit in writing. Planning is a different beast than actually writing the thing.

But don’t knock this one until you try it folks. This is something I tested with a good friend of mine and the results of it were astonishing to say the least.

Here’s what happened:

1.) Learning Some Profound Things About Characters

I’m not talking about you learning your character’s favorite song, or if they like peach cobbler over apple pie. (But let’s be honest, they’re delicious!)

You learn what they believe about themselves and what they believe about others.

This is important because beliefs are core parts of our characters that say a lot about who they are and how they’ll react to people and the situations going on around them.

You might be thinking that one of your characters is all braggy because he’s overcompensating for some *ahem* smallish parts. But it might just turn out that he’s doing that because he feels a lot of pressure to be everyone’s hero and doesn’t want to let anyone to worry.

Your heroine might always walk around with resting bitch face because she was stalked once by a man that took her friendly hello for an invitation.

You will come across a lot of things that simply don’t come up in character sheets or planning questionnaires. And they’ll be a little more organic because you have to come up with answers in the character’s own voice.

2.) Learning To Not Judge “Villains” So Harshly

Some villains actually have really reasonable motivations for why they do things. So don’t be so quick to blame their actions on being insane or just being a bad seed. In some cases, they might feel like they don’t have a choice.

Because we don’t always give our villains screen time, we don’t know the reason why they’re acting. I mean how many times have you ever just got up in the morning decided, “Hey, today seems like a good day to take over the world”?

Most of us don’t even want the world that badly to act on something like that!

Really desperate feelings have to drive a person to get them to believe that “take over everything myself” is the right solution to their problems. And interviews help in that, the interviewer almost becomes a kind of confidant, so your character might be willing to let out a secret or two.

But also, asking your villains what they’re doing helps to understand where they are at certain times in the story when you don’t have your POV characters near them, so it doesn’t seem like they’re just twiddling their thumbs while your hero thwarts all their plans.

3.) Learning How Characters Feel About Each Other

It’s one thing to pair your characters up because they’re your favorite ship, but do you know why your characters like each other?

Or if they even like each other as much as you thought?

Sometimes characters seem to like each other on paper, but the depth of their feelings isn’t quite there. Or some characters have pet peeves about each other. Or you discover that some characters are out of touch with how people feel about them.

Or even that some characters are are too nice to tell some people that they don’t want to be friends!

The Interview Itself…

If you’re still on board at this point, you’re probably wondering how to do one of these interviews.

On Questions:

  • There are no questions that absolutely must be asked. But as a general rule of thumb, you want to avoid things that can be answered in one word. Or if you do want to ask those, follow up with questions on why.
  • Try to get characters to recall memories and experiences and to express fears and beliefs. This is stronger than getting them to answer basic facts about what they like because memories and experiences can be applied to the story much easier and make for a much stronger experience.

Now, I will say this. The interviews tend to work best if another person is asking the questions and you don’t know what they are beforehand. So I highly recommend you do this with a writing friend or any willing friend. You can do it alone if you really want to try it.

But as always, this stuff is always optional.

Now if you’ll excuse me… I think I’ll go and fire some of my own characters. 😉





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