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Jenny: Character Interviews

I’m just wondering who does them and if you find it helps pull your characters together, or are your characters kept inside your head until they appear in your story? How detailed do you get with each one? Does it help you keep the facts straight as you go along so Uncle Bob doesn’t turn into Uncle Ben halfway into a chapter?

I just did one last night and I was surprised at some of the things my character felt, said, and things he/she did in the past. It got me wondering how common it is for others to do the character interview.

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  1. I personally don’t use character interviews… I might write down a few notes before I start or as I go along, but in general, I prefer to get to know the characters the more I write… kind of like getting to know real people.

    For me, interviews boxed them in too much. I found myself forcing information just to get the interview “done.” But I’m a more end-oriented person than process-oriented, and things left undone drive me crazy!

    Sorry, I’m probably not helping. Just do whatever works for you. As you go forward, you’ll learn what works and what doesn’t. Just give yourself flexibility and go!

    February 5, 2008
  2. Yep, I’ve done these. Not always.

    Usually what determines if I do them or not, is the character and book plot itself. If the book has been mulling around in my head for a while, it’s fleshed out and I dive into the book. If suddenly i get stuck, or aren’t really liking my character (as in they don’t seem multi-dimensional) then I go back and do this.


    If I have a story idea, but the characters aren’t *there* yet. Like, they have names and some basic actions, but I’m not feeling the love, then I do them.

    How? Well, this varies too. But really, I don’t do the basic, what is their favorite color, hair color, etc stuff. I do the things like: What is their goal in this book? What are they like now? What will they be like at the end of this book? What feel or obstacle is in their way for achieving their goal? What do they think is their best asset? Worst? What is really their best and worst (from an outsiders perspective)? Etc. Sometimes I even do a bit of Myers Briggs personality types on them. It helps me a bit to work through what wasn’t working in the storyline. Or what might work better.

    When I do them, I must say, my writing it tighter in the draft (after that point). But, since it doesn’t always feel fun to write them, I have to wait for my brain to be ready to evaluate the characters that way. Thus, my 2-way approach of sometimes using these as a tool an sometimes not. 🙂

    Hope this helps and isn’t too much rambling!

    February 5, 2008
  3. I agree that it’s hard to know everything about your character before he or she has “revealed” his or her back story. But as you encountered some surprises during the exercise, then your character may already be well developed in your subconscious.

    While I’ve done character questionnaires, I haven’t come across anything called a character interview, and I’m curious to know how this is structured.

    I’m a visual person and I like to be able to “see” my main characters clearly. I have a binder of images of “regular” people (largely clipped from alumni magazines, local hospital newsletters, annual reports–anything that has photos of people who don’t look like models. When I settle on the right photo for a character, everything else can unfold from there.

    I am also into astrology and I always know the astrological background of my characters. Helps me figure out motivation at times.

    Lastly, I also adhere to the old adage that you should know something formative about your character that you never reveal.

    February 5, 2008
  4. jennymomof4 #

    This is what I used. It did help me get the creative vino flowing, something that happens regularly for the rest of you here, so maybe this is just something that was going to happen regardless? Who knows. It worked. :O)

    ETA: thanks for the help! I especially love the photo & astrology ideas. Never would have thought of those.

    February 6, 2008
  5. Oh Miranda! i do the same thing. There is always a little something about my characters that a reader wouldn’t ever really know. It is what i call the secret sauce of the character (that is not to say that secret wouldn’t say interfere with a reaction to something that happens in the book… just not something outwardly given to the reader as a slice of info).

    February 7, 2008
  6. Jenny, if character profiles get the creative vino flowing, that’s AWESOME. 🙂 The only reason I think it flows for me is that I’m in the habit. There are a lot of things about writing that I find easier – and can’t explain – now that I’m in the habit. So whatever it takes to get there, that’s what you should do!

    Bethany and Miranda, I cut large pieces of backstory from my novel to maintain its pacing – so I guess there’s a lot of “secret sauce” now! LOL Another author I like, Theresa Schwegel, did that with her debut Officer Down. I missed it, but ultimately not *too* much. It worked.

    February 7, 2008
  7. My web-host (Squidoo) informed me that I had traffic coming to my character profile site from this blog post, so I came to see why. OMG! I’m so glad to see my article is being recommened! Thank you! It was just something that I wrote up to tell others how I created my own characters, I’m so glad to know that others are finding it helpful!


    June 15, 2008

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