Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and the newly released The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.
If you had asked me a couple months ago about my feelings on doing "character interviews," I probably would've shrugged and said something like, "I don't know. If they help you, great. If they don't, fine."
I had tried before to be super-duper organized about my plotting and character planning. Charts with every character's birthday, their eye color, what kind of car they drove. I always burned out quickly and never looked at them again.
Then, Laura Anderson Kurk, author of the beautiful contemporary YA novel Glass Girl, wanted to interview the boys from my book for the Playlist Fiction Blog. And when a writer you love and admire wants to do something to promote you, you say yes. No brainer.
Laura sent over the interview questions.There weren't that many, and I thought it would maybe take me thirty minutes. After all, I was going to be writing on behalf of my male character and they're not that wordy.
The first one seemed very straight forward: First, give us a little background information. Tell us your name, your age, and where you go to school.
I poised my fingers over the keys, ready to answer as Chase Cervantes, and...nothing came out. Chase would never just spit out his name and age and where he goes to school. He would never trust anyone who asked him that question. And why was he being interviewed, anyway? The only person who would ever interview Chase was a cop.
I brushed the feeling away and decided to answer for Palmer first. Palmer would love to be interviewed. His answer came easily:
My name is Palmer Earl Davis (thanks Pappy Davis for the middle name.) I’m 16 years old, and I just moved from Louisville, Kentucky to Visalia, California, where I’m a junior at Redwood High School. Go Rangers!Okay, time to answer for Chase. Again, I sat there. He just wouldn't answer the question. And while Laura is a fellow writer, I didn't want to make her life difficult by saying, "Hey, Palmer was fine being interviewed, but Chase wasn't so wild about it..."
So I went with:
Uh, I’m Chase. I’m sixteen and I go to Redwood High School.And then moved on to the next question Laura had sent: What do you guys do for fun?
Well, great. There was no way Chase would answer that publicly.
I quickly figured out it was impossible to bounce from Palmer's voice to Chase's, so I decided to answer them all for Palmer, then all for Chase. 90 minutes later, I had finished the interview and sent it to Laura. (You can read the complete character interview on the Playlist Fiction blog.)
When I was done, I was so happy with what I'd written. It had been my first time writing anything purely from Chase or Palmer's point of view, and not only had it been fun, I felt like I had learned a lot about them. And it made me wish I had done character interviews for them sooner.
If you've tried character interviews before and they haven't worked (or if you've never tried them) here are some thoughts for when and how they might be most effective:
- Do the interviews after you've written part or all of the first draft. I need a little time in the story world to figure out how everything fits together and who even matters. Half the time when I'm writing the first chapter or two of a book, characters crop up who I didn't even predict.
- Consider interviewing only characters who aren't the main character. Especially if you write in first person, you likely already feel very close to that main character. I could have churned out that interview for Ellie in about 30 minutes. But it wouldn't have been as meaningful an experience as it was to write for Chase and Palmer.
- Let someone else ask the questions. You can recruit a writing friend to help you with this, and tell them you'll repay the favor. Or you can borrow the questions Laura asked me.
Speaking of Playlist Young Adult Fiction, Laura L. Smith's book It's Complicated is on sale right now for 99-cents. I'm going to give away FOUR e-copies of it:
Have you done character interviews before? What worked for you? What didn't?