Character Interviews & Why You Should Use Them

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons & Horia Varlan.

Every writer knows what it feels like to get stuck somewhere in the middle of whatever he/she is writing. It could be something as small as a scene or something as large as an entire chapter. Regardless of where or when it happens, writers block, in any of its various forms, is never fun to deal with.

Maybe writers block isn’t a problem. Maybe you’re just looking to learn more about your characters. Knowing your characters is the best way to get into their heads, especially if you’re writing through the first person point of view. I had never considered this to be an option until a professor mentioned it. She said it would be easier to write forward if I knew who my characters were, what they liked and disliked, how they felt about themselves and others, and how they would respond in certain situations.

What is a Character Interview?

It’s exactly what it sounds like. An interview with your character. Come up with your own questions or google “character interviews in writing.” You’ll come up with plenty of sites with lists of questions. Depending on what I’m writing, I either make up my own questions or follow a list. With the characters I have in the novel I’m currently writing, I use my own list of questions. Much of the time, you’ll end up using a list that “feels right” to you as the writer.

Character interviews are most fruitful when you have a synopsis or general outline for whatever you’re writing. Keep this in mind as story ideas come and go.

Why Should I Interview My Characters?

Because not only do character interviews help in further developing a character, they also help to kickstart the creative wheels and get you through writers block. Interviews help to discover character motives within the story and also give you a chance to write yet another story (the characters’ backstory).

What Else Should I Know Before I Begin?

When interviewing your characters, it’s always important to remember that you should never censor them. Allowing a character to speak his/her mind will add another dimension to that character. Their answers will surprise you and those surprises are the fruit of non-censorship. By avoiding censorship, you’re allowing your subconscious to flow freely—a good idea since that is where story ideas originate.

Avoid questions that will involve a “yes” or “no” answer. After all, the reason for the interview is to get your characters to open up. Ask leading questions that will achieve that. It’s okay to dig. Your characters aren’t going to feel hurt or embarrassed. Ask tough questions. The more personal, the better.

By the end of the interview, you should have several pages of information—all backstory about your characters. You should also have a better idea of where your story is going to go. Once you have character backstory, it’s much easier to flesh things out about characters during certain scenes, and this will only make those scenes that much stronger. If you’re writing forward and happen to get stuck again, conduct another interview. The more, the better.

[Do you use character interviews? What kind of questions do you ask? Would you like to see a list of questions posted? Let me know in the comments!]

2 Replies to “Character Interviews & Why You Should Use Them”

  1. Character interviews are a great idea. I use them in a slightly different form when I am preparing for a role in the theatre. They allow me to get the feel for my character and develop areas that may or may not have been explored by the playwright.

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