Tag: Character Interviews

Characters: A Checklist

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons & karindalziel.

Last spring when I was taking my workshop in novel writing, one of our required books was “Writing the Breakout Novel” by Donald Maass. As you’d expect, there’s a chapter about characters. They need to be out of the ordinary; characters are what makes your plot interesting

At the end of the chapter (at the end of every chapter, actually), Maass has a checklist. Because Raising the stakes in your writing is such an important part of the writing process, I wanted to post it here. Not everyone has read the book (I do recommend picking it up), and the checklist is an important one.

BREAKOUT Checklist: Characters

  • All stories are character driven.
  • Engrossing characters are out of the ordinary.
  • Readers’ sympathy for characters comes from characters’ strengths.
  • Larger-than-life characters say what we cannot say, do what we cannot do, change in ways that we cannot change.
  • Larger-than-life characters have conflicting sides and are conscious of self.
  • Dark protagonists appeal only when they have sympathetic sides; e.g., they struggle to change or have hidden sensitivity.
  • The highest character qualities are self-sacrifice and forgiveness.
  • Build a cast for contrast.
  • Build complex character relationships by combining roles.
  • Choose a narrator based on who is changed most by the story’s events.
  • Build depth of character with tools like character biographies, author-character dialogues, etc.
  • Differentiate characters with character charts.
  • Breakout characters are deep and many-sided.

[Was this post helpful? Would you like to see more of these checklists in the future? How do you raise the stakes in your own writing? Let’s discuss it in the comments!]

Character Interview Questions

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons & Horia Varlan.

Because I’ve gotten horrible at keeping all of my writing files in one organized folder (I’m working on it, I promise!), I was unable to post interview questions a few days ago when I wrote the initial entry on character interviews. I’ve located my “master list” of questions that I use when developing characters and have created a PDF for anyone who may be interested.

You can download it here.

You don’t have to use all of the questions. I rarely do. Pick and choose what works best for the character you’re writing. Make different lists from the questions if you want to. The key is to find the set of questions that will help you learn the most about your characters. It’s a trial and error process at first, but it’s gets easier as you go along.

Related Post: Character Interviews & Why You Should use Them

[If you try the questions I’ve posted, please let me know how they worked for you. Leave a comment. You can email me, too!]

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!]