How to do a character interview

Updated: Aug 13, 2021

It's no secret that readers love characters. How can you craft memorable characters who feel like real people? Christina shows us how to get those characters chatting!


Hello there! My name is Christina. I am a YA/MG fantasy author, currently querying my first book.


There are two types of stories: character-driven and plot-driven. Personally, what I find to be the most enjoyable of character-driven stories is the lack of guessing where the story is going, and I get to keep focused on the character. Some people might struggle with how to connect with their characters on a deeper level. Cue the interview!


"Isn't an interview and character questionnaire the same thing?"

Yes and No. They both contain questions about your characters; however, you will get your character's voice to come out by conducting it in an interview format!


"Okay, but my characters aren't real?"

That might be part of the problem. When I conduct my character interviews, I prepare a list of questions. Some pertain to the character his/her/themself; some will be about situations the characters were in and others about how the character feels about the rest of the crew. Interviews are also a great way to help with the dreaded writer's block.


To conduct an interview, you don't need to do it orally (unless that helps you!). Choose one character at a time and prepare a list of questions. Think about the question and put your mind in the mind of your character. How do they interpret the question? Bored, offended, shy, cocky? Write out the full sentence answers, include the pauses for thought, reflect on the word choices, and take note of body language (if you're picturing the whole thing as I do). Think of it as the actor interviews in the special features on the movie or pretend you're hosting a late-night talk show if it helps.


For this to work, you must feel that your character is as real as you are. When you're happy with the answers to your questions, you should better understand your character and have new ideas to work into the story.


EXAMPLE


Me: Thanks for taking the time to sit with me today.

Isaac: Sure, um, yeah. It's supposed to help, right?

Me: It will, yes. In the story, there are multiple mentions that you did not know your grandfather well, but you seem very focused on his death. Why is that?

Isaac: Probably because everyone is trying to act like he just died, but the way they went about things was just so weird, you know? My mom said it was a heart attack, but he wasn't here when it happened. They didn't have an open casket at his funeral, and then his whole house was packed up super quick. Then no one talked about it again. It happened a few years ago, but still, if I ask about it, I get the shortest answer possible. Makes me think something is going on. I know why he traveled now and that it can be dangerous, so I think I'm on to something. I think being a light keeper got him killed. I just don't know why.

Me: Does that scare you? Now that you're a light keeper, do you worry what killed him might also kill you?

Isaac: I haven't had much time to think about it, honestly. *sighs* But I guess, not really. It was probably someone he was after, so I doubt I'll be up against that specific thing any time soon, especially since we don't have his notebook. I have no way to know what he was doing.

Me: Does it bother you that this notebook still hasn't been found?

Isaac: *Shrugs* Who knows how much it would anyways? Yara and I are figuring it out. The first light keepers had to figure it out on their own, too.

Me: Thanks for your time; I think we have enough for this example.

Isaac: No problem.


END EXAMPLE


As you see in the above example, it is identical to the way you would speak to another person.


Here are some DOs

  • DO - Ask leading questions. Let a question take you down the rabbit hole of additional questions.

  • DO - As questions to which you may not know the answer. Even if the character can't answer, the way they handle to question can still be helpful. It can give you quirks and character traits to work into the story.

  • DO - Inject some personality. We respond differently to the kind of energies others give out. Your characters should, too. Come at a shy character with a strong and angry energy, and they'll shut down, say almost anything to get out of that situation. Confront a brute with bubbly and light-hearted chit-chat, and they'll probably roll their eyes before giving any answers. Any time you feel stuck, don't be afraid to switch it up.


I'm not going to bore you with DON'Ts. This exercise should be fun, and I don't believe there is a wrong way to go about it. I have learned much about different characters through these interviews. It has helped me raise the stakes, have compassion for my villain, and understand some character's motivations in how they act towards another character. Try it! The worst that can happen is you'll feel a little silly.


Join me on my blog, authorcwallace.com/blog. You can follow me along my writer's journey on my path to publication and find more tips on writing.


Do you want to dive deeper? Try using different styles of questions. Check out How to do a character interview: part 2 over on my blog!


Thanks, Slushpile Steve, for inviting me over!




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Christina Wallace (@cwallace_author) is a YA/MG fantasy author when she's not juggling her two young children. You can also find Christina cuddled on the couch with her favorite video game, loving husband, and two fluffy puppers. Writing has always been a part of Christina's life and now she cannot wait to share her stories with the world.

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