Hey all! Shannon here! Well, I'm not REALLY here. I'm off celebrating my 15th wedding anniversary with my husband. But in my absence, I have the grand privilege of introducing you all to Cindy M. Jones. She has some fantastic thoughts on interviewing your characters. Bookmark this one, friends. You'll need it!
Cindy M. Jones is story consultant, small business owner, speaker and creative writing workshop leader who has appeared in publications such as; The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, The Christian Post, Birmingham Magazine, Birmingham Parent, Birmingham Business Journal and RootsRated. She has founded and facilitated creative writing groups for all ages. Her mission is guiding writers in discovering their goals and unique voice while giving them the tools they need to succeed. You can follow her happily ever after life on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram or sign up for an occasional free short story at cindymjones.com. Her favorite quote is, “Start where you are, do what you can, use what you have.” ~ Arthur Ashe
How to Interview Your Characters Like a Pro. Dig deeper than eye or hair color with these 23 soul searching questions.
Growing up in the Deep South, manners were taught with handed down adages. When it came to people, there were two that everyone knew by heart, “You can’t judge a book by its cover” and “Walk a mile in their shoes before you judge ‘em.”
These sayings intrigued me, even more so as a newspaper journalist. My curiosity about people only deepened. With each interview, I realized things aren’t always what they seem. On the outside like a book cover, each one portrayed a happy, successful and productive life but once the pages began turning, truths emerged. Insecurities, grief and fear infested their walls like termites.
That’s when my inner sleuth came alive. I wanted to know what created certain personality, traits, mannerisms and uniqueness. Was it genetics, society, family relationships, environmental or personal obstacles?
Each individual story jabbed my heart, but I cherished every victory. I was walking in their shoes.
Using the same tools to dig deeper into understanding characters, I’ve chosen 23 questions out of hundreds that I’ve collected over the years to help you get to know your character. At first glance, a character seems flat and unrelatable. Once they begin to develop, you feel their pain. You want them to heal, to grow, to overcome.
Interviewing someone isn’t always easy. You need to earn their trust, allow your subject to warm up to you. Make them feel comfortable, valued… you are their best friend who would never spill their secrets. Well, at least not yet.
Author Nancy Rue once said in a conference that she purchases a new journal for each new character and allows each to tell her story. Let’s start our journey with your character’s vulnerabilities.
(Tip - Create a collage of pictures of your character to place in front of you as you interview them.)
Start off with a few questions:
1. What are you most proud of but afraid of sharing?
2. Do you consider yourself liked or disliked by others? Why?
3. Are you afraid of being your true self around others? Why?
Now that you know a bit about your character, how would they finish these sentences?
4. “More than anything, I want to …”
5. “If I could change anything about myself, I would…”
6. “I think my greatest strengths, abilities and skills are…”
Now’s the time to get to the heart of things. Don’t hold back, allow yourself to feel what your character may feel. Actors call this “fleshing out.” Step into their world.
7. What is your biggest regret?
8. What are some lessons in life you’ve had to learn the hard way?
9. What is your deepest need?
10. What is your darkest secret?
11. What is your greatest fear?
It’s okay to allow your own experiences to feed into your character. “Write what you know,” is a quote attributed to Mark Twain. But Benjamin Franklin also said, “Write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”
(Tip - Asking yourself “what if” is an excellent way to move beyond what you know into what your character may know.)
12. What if you had to give up something very valuable for another? What would it be?
13. What if you were to decide a person’s fate? What types of people would you consider worthy or unworthy?
14. What if you had to choose one thing to do the rest of your life? What would it be?
15. What if everyone doubted your abilities? How would you overcome?
16. What if you had to compete against others to live? How would you find courage?
If you are in doubt to what your character might do or say, go with your gut. What is your first response? What makes you shudder? Don’t go with the easy or acceptable answer. Ask yourself, “What would be the worst thing that could happen?” The worst case scenario is what will create tension. Tension creates drama. Drama creates apathy. The character that was once a sketch is now a living breathing being.
17. If you knew you were going to die in the next year, what would you do differently?
18. In what ways are you most like your enemies that you hate?
19. Which relationships in your family/life are the best? The worst?
“The best way to predict the future is to create it.” ― James Scott Bell, How to Make a Living As a Writer.
Every character needs redeeming qualities. We want them to walk away changed. How would your character complete these sentences?
20. “People have no idea what it’s like to be me. I’ve been through....but I want to...”
21. “It’s not my fault for… if everyone would… I wouldn’t…”
22. “I’m tired of always being the one to… when I should be…”
23. “I wish I had someone with whom I could share…”
Can you visualize your character now? Do they seem real? Did you find yourself emotionally involved? If so, you’re on your way to developing a three dimensional character, the kind that stays with you long after the story has ended. Take a step in her shoes, then another. Don’t stop until you know everything there is to know about your hero.