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Interviewing your characters – what they say might surprise you

It isn’t the idea of a writer interviewing her characters that frightens most people; it’s the thought that somehow they might answer. They do answer. And sometimes I don’t like what they have to say, but I have learned that character interviews, like bios, are essential to understanding–and sometimes getting along with–the people who populate my imagination and stories.

To the average person, this sounds ridiculous; but to writers, dealing with imaginary peope who sometimes don’t get along is just another fun and challenging aspect of our job.

During my junior year at college I wrote a sci-fi political thriller with a story based on real life events. It was a cool, high-concept thriller. Think big budget summer blockbuster. I could visualize it…my only problem being, for whatever reason I couldn’t seem to “connect” with the protagonist, Riley. (I am still on an “R” streak when it comes to naming my protagonists, as they have all been given names starting with the letter R — but that’s another story).

I asked my professors for guidance, and after doing extra credit character development assignments, etc., I still did not feel like I knew Riley as well as I needed to in order to immerse myself in his story. With character development being my strong point, this irritated me terribly and thus, I was angry at Riley. My writing skills were suffering for it. If I couldn’t see the character and hear how he would speak, I couldn’t write the scenes convincingly. So I took him out of the story for the moment and wrote a scene as I would for a novel using full narratives rather than short action blocks of description as was required in the script. I let my protagonist, Ria, from The Roslin Effect, “interview” Riley. I know Ria’s personality inside out, and her fun, energetic personality worked well in contrast to his shyness. She asked him about his life, his story, his girlfriend, etc., and the scene went on and on; and with it, through a character I knew and loved, I began to feel as though I knew Riley as well.

I was working with one of my favorite professors, who is am amazing creative mind, and when I told her about the interview she congratulated me on the idea, and thought it could be a useful tool to other writers facing a similar dilemma with character development.

The interview doesn’t have to be a long scene; make it however long you like. Have fun with it. Where do your characters meet? What does the place look like? Has one of them been there before? Are they happy about it? Or not? Why? It’s amazing how much you can learn about them in one simple scene. Take it out of the context of your story and see how the characters react in new surroundings.

The doors to creativity are endless, and I encourage anyone suffering from writer’s block or just struggling with a character or scene to try this exercise.

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