Getting to Know You: Interviewing Your Characters (Penny Rader)

A writer friend asked if I could find some info about interviewing characters. Always eager to play on the Internet, I happily took up the challenge. Who knew there'd be so many articles on this subject! So much, in fact, that I'm splitting my discoveries into two posts. I hope you find the following articles (and snippets) helpful.

100 Character Development Questions for Writers (Laura Cushing)

My advice is to do the questions a bit a time so you don't burn out on them. Just when you have some quiet time, sit down with your character (perhaps over a cup of tea) and let them answer the questions naturally. Skip any that do not apply to your character or world setting. … Answer these in character, but only in a situation where your character would be 100% honest with themselves and with the person asking the question. Otherwise, answer as an author, and still be 100% honest.

Sample questions:

5. What tape or CD hasn't left your player since you purchased it? Why?
13. What annoys you more than anything else?
23. What habit that others have annoys you most?
24. What kind of things embarrass you? Why?
25. What don't you like about yourself?

20 Questions for Your Characters (Louise Ahearn)

Keep in mind that the most important question is “why?” Don’t let your characters get away with “yes” or “no” answers.

Sample questions:

1. What is your most painful memory from childhood? Your happiest?
2. What is your greatest fear?
3. What did you want to be when you grew up? Are you living your dreams?
5. If you could go back in time and change one decision you made, which one would you change?

Note from Penny: Louise’s article also mentions a few books that might be helpful in interviewing your characters.

Add Depth to Stories by Interviewing Characters (Marg McAlister)

The basic format of the character interview is simply to put the author's question on one line, then start the character's response on the next. As the interview proceeds, writers usually find that they can picture the actions and body language of the character, and also inflections of speech. It's handy to note these details in the interview script as well, because they come in handy when writing scenes; readers will be able to see your characters more clearly.

B&A Writers: Character Interview Questions

Sample questions:

4. What is your usual facial expression? A frown, raised eyebrows?
5. What do you think people's first expression of you?
8. What is your motto in life?
10. What was the one thing you learned that you never forgot?
15. Some stranger says something about you that he/she heard. Is it good or bad? How do you react?

Character Development – The Interview (Randy Ulrich)

Sample questions:

1. How would your parents describe you?
2. How would your friends describe you?
10. Where are your least favorite places?
11. What kind of sleeper are you?
17. What do people assume about you that isn’t true?

Character Interview: 15 Questions

Sample questions:

4. What's the best day of your life?
5. When have you had to act strongest when it hurt?
12. Are you human? If not, what are you?
13. What's your favorite song?
14. What do you do in your spare time?

The Character Interview: Lotsa Questions (Alicia Rasley)

If these characters were really real, you'd get acquainted in a variety of ways, chief among them observation and conversation -- watching and interviewing. I'm going to ask you to use these two techniques to discover -- to uncover -- one of your characters.

I recommend free-writing as one of the best ways to tap into your subconscious and break writer's block. To free-write, just set a timer for three or five or ten minutes, type or write a prompt or a question, and then write freely about it. Editing isn't allowed; neither is writer's block. If you can't think of anything to say, write the last word over and over until you get inspired. Don't worry! It never takes long.

Then just write down whatever your subconscious sends you, without regard for spelling, grammar, or organization. Often it's the digressions from the subject that provide the most fascinating insights. When the timer rings, you must stop -- unless, of course, you're so inspired you want to continue!

Sample questions:

3. What talent or skill will you need to have to survive this plot? (an incisive mind, sharpshooting, charm, auto mechanics) How did you acquire this? How do you use it?
17. What are you keeping secret? Who is it secret from? Yourself? How long has it been a secret? What do you think will happen if it becomes known? What really will happen if it becomes known?
18. What are you lying about, if only to yourself? Are you good at deception? How about self-deception? Why are you lying? Who doesn't fall for it? What will happen if the truth gets out?
19. What is your special power? It doesn't have to be supernatural. What ability/skill/talent/sensitivity/value/belief sets you apart from everyone else? What do you do with this power? How does it get you into trouble? How does it get you out of trouble?

Character Interview Questions (Donna Sunblad)

Which Describes You (your character) Best?

1. Nervous or calm?
2. Teacher or student?
6. Humble or proud?
9. Honest, stretch the truth when necessary, or all out liar?

Character Interview Sheet (Marg McAlister)

You’re going to wear two hats. As the author, you are going to start by asking the questions. Then you’re going to slip into your character’s skin to answer those questions. … Don’t give the answers that YOU, the everyday-writer-you, would give. This is not about you; it’s about a completely different person that you’re creating.

Sample questions:

*How do you react to confrontation? Would you give anything for a quiet life or do you enjoy winning an argument or a fight?
*Is there anyone you would not expect to betray you? How would you feel/react if they did?
*Who would you die to protect?
*Who would die to protect you?
*“I can usually get myself out of trouble by…”
*“I don’t like people who…”

Character Questionnaires

One of the best ways to get to know your characters is to ask questions about them. Many writers do this as a kind of homework before they actually start writing a story. The more you know your characters, the fuller they will be. This might also make your story easier to write.

Sample questions:

• What or who is the greatest love of your life?
• When and where were you the happiest?
• What is it that you most dislike?
• What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
• What is the trait you most deplore in others?
• What do you consider the most overrated virtue?


What do you think? Care to share your character interview in the Comments section?

Please come back on March 31st for Part 2. :D


Jennifer Jakes said...

OH, wow! These are fantastic! Great post:)

Penny Rader said...

Thanks, Jennifer. Hope you found something helpful. :D

D'Ann said...

Great info! Lots of intriguing questions there!

Penny Rader said...

Thanks, D'Ann. Do you have any favorites?

Caroline Clemmons said...

Great lists, Penny.

Cheryl Pierson said...

I have never done a character interview before. I did write a kind of monologue where my character Jessica from Fire Eyes was telling about her life before she met Kaed. That helped me so much. Things happened to her that I had no idea about. I use it as an example when I teach my classes for people to do with their characters if they don't want to just sit and "interview" their characters--many people feel weird about that for some reason--I just think it's very cool. I have intended now for a while to interview my hero that I'm going to write about next. This gives me a lot of great pointers. I'm looking forward to your next post on it, too!

P.L. Parker said...

Really great ways to set up background.

Joanie said...

Penny, this is excellent! You always offer such great resources. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Wow! What a fantastic job. Can I repost this at my blog?
Joy Held
Writer Wellness, a writer's path to health and creativity.
Who Dares Wins Publishing

Penny Rader said...

Thanks, Caroline!

Penny Rader said...

Cheryl, do you have Jessica's interview posted anywhere? I'd love to read it.

Hope you enjoy the post on the 31st, too. :D

Penny Rader said...

Thanks, P.L. I thought the authors came up with fantastic questions.

Penny Rader said...

You're so sweet, Joanie. Glad you find my posts helpful. I love to play on the Internet and I love to share what I find.

Penny Rader said...

Hi Joy! It's okay with me if you post it to your blog. More promo for the authors. :D I have to get back to work now, but I'm making a note to visit your blog after work.