Friday, June 18, 2010

A Better Way to Interview Characters

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by C. Patrick Schulze

Listen to a PODCAST of this article.

Do you ever wake to an odd thought or memory? It happens to me quite often, and today's strange recollection involved a woman who worked for me a long time ago. I considered her an ideal member of my staff. I found her reliable, efficient, knowledgeable and one who took great care of my customers. What's not to like? In contrast, every other staff member, without exception, hated this woman with the proverbial passion.

I found it interesting that one individual elicited such a wide range of sentiments, and the thought gave me an idea about my characters. I wondered how each character views my other characters.

It seems to me this idea might allow us, as the creator of CHARACTERS, to achieve a better understanding of who these people are that populate our novels.

We've all heard of, if not performed, character interviews. That's where we, the author, ask questions of our characters to flesh out their personality and backgrounds. What if we expand on this idea and asked our other characters what they think of the first character?

The original character might see himself as honorable, trustworthy, strong and intelligent. What if their counterparts see them as a "goody-two shoes," pushy, a know-it-all and a blowhard?

Let's consider the example of a hardworking man who works late into the night at his job. How might his boss view him? Probably as I did the woman mentioned above, diligent, loyal and all the rest. On the flip side, how might his wife and children see him? Might the wife envision an unloving lout with misplaced priorities and little concern for their children? She may even worry about infidelity. Would his darling offsprings view him as one who works hard to give them a good life, or as a man with little love or care for their emotional needs?

Might this practice help us to learn more about our characters? I think it might. So, one secret to that believable character is to highlight the image he portrays from the perspective of other characters.

I also see a couple of side benefits to this technique. The first is you may also learn more about the characters who offer their opinions. After all, won't their words at least hint at their emotional characteristics? The second advantage lies within your plot development. When you determine what other characters think, it may improve your plot by offering more options for conflict and tension.

Consider the father who works late all the time. Should his wife see him as a potential philanderer, wouldn't that provide an opportunity to expand the novel's plotline and offer more potential power to it? How might it affect the storyline if his children consider him an uncaring appendage to their life? Wouldn't that increase the tension and beef up the PLOT for your reader? I think it just might.

So, give 'em a second interview, guys. It just might give your novel something it may lack.

Now, have you tried this technique and what did you learn from it?

Until we meet again, know I wish for you, only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the emerging novel, "Born to be Brothers"


  1. That's an interesting idea!
    As i wrote my book, I considered the opposite views the two main characters possessed of each other - neither of which was totally true.

  2. C. Patrick SchulzeJune 19, 2010 at 8:56 AM

    How did that affect the story, Alex?