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The Author's Guide to Interviewing Your Characters

FEATURED IMAGE New York Book Editors 7 5 2021 The Authors Guide t

Your story is only as strong as its characters.

Even with a great story idea, if you have weak, undeveloped, and/or trite characters, your story will fall flat. Readers won’t care about what happens. If you can’t get the reader to root for or against your characters, they’ll stop reading.

Developing your characters develops your story. Remember that the story doesn’t happen to your characters. Instead, your characters make the story happen. Sure, every story begins with an inciting incident that starts the protagonist’s journey. But, the story “happens” because of the characters’ decisions. It’s an orchestra of characters’ actions and reactions.

Remember that the story doesn’t happen to your characters. Instead, your characters make the story happen.

Long story short: You need to know your characters inside and out. And interviewing your characters will help you learn more about them.

Let’s discuss how to effectively interview your characters.

The Benefits of Interviewing Your Characters

Interview Characters for Your Novel

We’ve already discussed how character development is crucial to writing a good story. Now, let’s discuss why you should use interviews as part of your overall character development strategy.

Learn More About Your Characters

When you ask your characters a series of questions, you discover more about them. You learn things that you probably would never have thought of otherwise.

Humanize Your Characters

As your character opens up about who they are, they become more human. Even if you don’t share everything you know with your readers, it’s important that you know the details. Your knowledge of the character will inform how you depict them in your story.

Find Your Characters’ Voices

When your characters answer questions, you have the opportunity to refine their voices. You can make note of how they respond. (Are they blunt? Are they reserved?) And you can set the cadence of their speech. (Do they pause or hesitate? Do they prattle on until interrupted?) Listening to your characters “talk” will also improve your future dialogue.

Create Well-Rounded Characters

Interviewing your characters will help to create more three-dimensional and relatable humans. If you know your characters’ flaws, failures, strengths, and motivations, your story will be more realistic.

Create New Characters

Many writers tend to write the same characters over and over again. But when you take the extra step to interview characters you’ve never written before, you can create fresh and different characters that don’t resemble what you’ve already written.

Know Your Characters’ Triggers

By asking introspective questions, you can understand how your characters think and also how they approach conflict. You can also create better internal conflict because you know what makes your characters tick and what can hurt them.

Here are our tips on how to create conflict within your novel.

Write Quicker and With Increased Confidence

When you know your characters inside and out, you’ll become a more productive writer. You won’t have to think too deeply about the appropriate response for each character because you’ll know the right move intuitively through your deep research ahead of time.

Important Note

The questions you ask your characters are different from the questions that you initially ask yourself when building your characters. Before you get to the point of interviewing your characters, you should already have a basic outline of your character. Use these questions to provide the finer details.

How to Interview Your Characters

There are two ways to go about interviewing your characters:

Option 1: Magically transform into your character’s therapist, or a journalist, and then ask questions.

Option 2: Set up a scene where two (or more) characters ask each other questions.

I recommend the second option because it tends to produce better results. It’s a tad awkward for you, as the author, to “interact” with your characters. But it’s a lot easier to create throwaway scenes where your characters talk about themselves in a more natural setting.

10 Questions to Ask Your Characters (And Why)

Interview Characters for Your Novel

Now, let’s get into the nitty-gritty.

Assuming you know the basics, such as your characters’ names, here are 10 essential questions to ask your characters. These questions are designed to dive deep into your characters and learn how they navigate through their world. Of course, there are hundreds of potential questions. Use this as the starting point, and add more questions as you see fit.

1. What are you most proud of?

This question helps you understand what your character values.

2. What's your biggest regret?

You can use this answer to create internal tension.

3. How is your relationship with your parents?

Parents, whether present or absent, have a huge impact on children. It’s important to know how your character feels about and relates to their parents because this can affect their relationships with others.

4. Who's the most important person in your life, and why?

Whether a spouse, a friend, a teacher, or a family member, find out who impacts your character. Your character should, in some way, emulate this person because humans tend to mimic who they respect.

5. What do you love most about your parents? Your best friend?

This is another question to help you understand your character’s value system.

6. Who in your family do you wish you could be closer to, and why?

You can use this question to dig into the reasons why your character isn’t close to their family member. This can reveal a possible trauma in their past.

7. What's the most embarrassing thing that's ever happened to you?

It’s always good to find out what brings your character pain. This helps you identify their sensitive areas because not everyone is embarrassed by the same things.

8. Who were your role models growing up?

This helps you determine important figures in your protagonist’s life and the impact they had.

9. What’s the most defining moment in your childhood/life?

Prod your character to identify an event that shaped them.

10. What's your worst habit?

This is a flaw that you can use throughout your story to humanize your character.

Asking the above questions will help you create more nuanced characters. The fine details create a more realistic character portrait.

How to Use Character Interviews to Improve Your Story

After you’ve asked the above questions, what can you do with the answers? Here’s how to use what you’ve learned to improve your story.

Use the information as your reference

While the answers may never be shared with readers, the character’s answers will create a stronger character. In the process of writing, you can refer back to these questions for clues on how the character may respond to an event or person.

introduce your characters

You can use what you’ve learned in your character interview to write an engaging introduction. This is especially useful if your story is written in the first person. However, be careful to only share what’s necessary to move the story forward. As tempting as it may be, don’t dump a huge expository text to explain your character’s background. The reader won’t care that much about a character that they’ve just met, so an expository introduction can be overkill unless administered in small doses.

Check out these tips on how to write character introductions.

Reveal details through dialogue

If you decide to have your characters interview each other, then you may be able to re-use that dialogue for an actual scene in your book.

Final Thoughts

Here’s a word of caution: Don't take too long to interview your characters. It’s easy to get bogged down in the research and outlining phase of writing. And, if you’re not careful, you’ll overload yourself with so much information that you won’t be able to write with ease.

Remember that the ultimate goal of outlining is to learn more about your characters. Your interview shouldn’t be a starting point. It should happen after you’ve covered the basics and are now ready to add the details.

Check out this related post: Tips for Balancing Characterization With Plot.

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