Interview your characters?

SUMMARY: Ed Wilson talks about interviewing characters as part of the development process

This morning I decided to make some Orange Cream tea from leaves I bought when I was in Hamburg. It is a wonderful tea, and it goes well with really dark chocolate. I added a bit of Orange Peel, and a cinnamon stick to the tea and it came out nice.

Interviewing the character

A common suggestion I hear in writers groups, at conferences, and even in books and blogs is to interview the character. Some even go so far as to create an interview sheet, that the writer is supposed to fill out.

The suggestion is to create an interview sheet for each character, especially for main characters. Include likes, dislikes, favorite foods, music, activities. Decide on style of clothes, type of hair cut, and so on and so on and so on. Of course, the interviews are supposed to be for the author, and will not end up in the book. But this is actually a pretty dangerous assumption because after all of the work, the writer really begins to think all of this stuff is important. This leads to the infamous beginner mistake called the info dump. It goes something like this:

In walked Sam. Sam was a recent graduate of Ohio State University where he was a member of the campus newspaper. He wrote a weekly review of chain restaurants that were within walking distance of the downtown campus. He was well known, therefore, for having a rather well developed culinary pallet, especially when thinking about low priced chain restaurants. There was just one thing, and that was that Sam really does not like green eggs, nor does he like green ham. This tended to cause quite a stir around St. Patrick’s day. In fact, Sam once stated to a close friend that he would not eat green eggs or green ham in a box, nor with a fox. He also confided to his wife that he would not eat either green eggs or green ham in a tree. But he had not ruled out eating green eggs and green ham with a Kangaroo. Yes, there was definitely a maybe when it comes to eating with Kangaroo, in in his household, it caused much ado.

Ok, so maybe this is not an improvement over a great children’s classic. In fact, there is much to distracting information here. The fact that Sam worked on a campus newspaper, or that it was Ohio State, or his reputation for eating at low priced chain restaurants, St. Patrick’s day. All this is unimportant. But because I took the time to create the back story, I want to use all of that work. Purists will say, but it helps with motivation, it helps the writer to understand the character and therefore to create believable characters.

Create, Document, on the fly

Maybe. Maybe not. What I do, is when I add in a specific detail, I document the detail in my character sketch. I only add details when I need them. To me, this keeps from having artificial characters. Because, if I sit down and create a back story, likes and dislikes and all of that, then the characters do not seem to believable. On the other hand, if I think how would the character react in a specific situation, then now I have context, and as a result a stronger character. Plus, because I have no back raft of details, I have no desire to do an info dump on the poor unsuspecting reader.

Think about it. Maybe it will work for you. Maybe not.

Join me tomorrow when I will talk about description.

I hope you have an great day.

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