Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Interviewing The Characters in Your Book

by Sarah Sally Hamer @SarahSallyHamer

We all want to know our characters better, to make them ‘jump off the page’ or be ‘less like cardboard’. But it’s not as easy as it sounds. After all, our characters ‘talk’ to US. How is it possible they don’t also come alive for our readers?

Of course, we want to describe the physical appearance of our characters, although that’s a different article. But that’s not the crux of what we writers need to do. We need to make our characters REAL, so that our stories will resonate with the reader. 

From the main protagonist all the way to the walk-on server in a restaurant, each of our characters has a story. Just like people, a character isn’t ‘born’ the moment they walk into our books. They have goals and conflicts and motivations and flaws and virtues. Think about some of your favorite books/movies. Are you interested in the plot? Or are you enamored with the character? Jamie Frasier in Outlander.Or Claire, for that matter. Katniss in The Hunger Games.Frodo in The Lord of the Rings.All of these characters SEEM real, even though they’re not. So we need to take time to build those characters.

 We can’t put all of their backgrounds into the story or we’d have a mish-mash but we need to know a lot about every main character.  If you as the writer don’t know what your characters want, why they want it and why they can’t have it, neither will the reader.

One of the best ways I know to get your character to talk to you is through a Character Interview.  

Character interviews often take place with two people, one pretending to be their character, the other pretending to be a television or newspaper interviewer. The character side will answer all questions with “I” or “me”, only speaking from the character’s viewpoint.

The interviewer ‘talks’ to the character and asks questions based on the character traits you’ve created for your character.  Think a TV reporter or Johnny Carson/Jay Leno/Jimmy Kimmel asking questions. Here’s a site to get some good questions -

It’s also all right to do this on your own. I turn on my computer and pretend I’m speaking to my character and typing what he or she says. So I might ask my female protagonist why she’s afraid to commit to a relationship. She might ‘tell’ me that her heart was broken when she was in high school and she can’t trust men. The next question – following that lead – might be why she thinks love and trust mean the same thing. By delving deeper and deeper into ‘her’ personality, I may actually discover that she’s terrified of making another mistake, because her father left her mother when she was a child. 

Do you see? Of course, this isn’t a perfect example, but the more I ask, the more I dig, the more information I’ll get. Then, I can create that character on the page with a depth of feeling that makes her ‘real’. 

Maybe your character cheated on a spouse, which would bring up some interesting questions! Or someone he loved very much died. One of my friends discovered that her heroine’s ‘aunt’ was really her mother, which completely changed the dynamics of her book. She was amazed and delighted at the same time and, after she finished it, the book sold very quickly.

Another tip is to try to make sure your character answers questions ‘in character.’ If he is an old man, he’s going to speak differently than a young woman will, for instance.  

Remember, we’re really NOT too interested in what these characters LOOK like.  We want to know what makes them tick.

Try it! The more you can work with this process, the more I think you’ll find it helps to develop your characters and make them real.

I’d love to hear about your interviews – tell me the secrets your characters tell you!


I wish to express gratitude to the giants whose shoulders I stand on and who taught me so much about the writing craft. I would list every one, if it were only possible.

Sarah (Sally) Hamer is a lover of books, a teacher of writers, and a believer in a good story. Most of all, she is eternally fascinated by people and how they 'tick'. She’s passionate about helping people tell their own stories, whether through fiction or through memoir. Writing in many genres - mystery, science fiction, fantasy, romance, medieval history, non-fiction – she has won awards at both local and national levels, including two Golden Heart finals.

A teacher of memoir, beginning and advanced creative fiction writing, and screenwriting at Louisiana State University in Shreveport for over twelve years, she also teaches online for Margie Lawson at Sally is a free-lance editor and book coach at Touch Not the Cat Books, with many of her students and clients becoming successful, award-winning authors. 

You can find her at

1 comment:

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