Monday, June 24, 2019

Writing Better Books by Interviewing Your Characters

by Ane Mulligan @AneMulligan

When interviewing our characters, we have to remove our novelist’s hat and don a journalist’s. You’re after a story, and it’s not time to be nice. 

A true journalist isn’t particularly concerned with the target’s feel8lings. In fact, a great journalist—a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist—goes for the jugular. He’ll poke, probe and pick scabs to get his story. He won’t leave his victim alone until they blurt out their secrets, their hidden desires, their deepest hurt. 

The same is true for us. I have over the years, taken my 7-page character interview and shrunk it down to a single page, keeping only the most probing questions. While we need the basic hair and eye colors, etc., what we really need to know is why they are the way they are and how did they become that way.

Let’s say your character is a people pleaser. How did she become like that? What is lacking in her self-confidence that makes her seek approval? Not just seek it, but the inner drive for approval is so deeply ingrained in her subconscious, she simply can’t stop it. 

That kind of drive for approval doesn’t just happen. It stems from deep within. That’s what we need to find out. And that takes more than surface probing. It can also take a lot of time. Our characters don’t give up those glimpses into themselves easily. 

Let’s say we have a character like this. We’ll call her Lucy. Lucy has an older brother, Billy, who, in her mother’s estimation, is about perfect. Billy is four years older than Lucy. He was an easy baby, an easy toddler, a little timid and always minded his mama. 

But Lucy was the opposite. Her curiosity led her to explore her surroundings and occasionally led her into trouble. Mama didn’t understand Lucy’s risk taking. She became distrustful of this small bundle of energy. Where Mama could leave Billy alone in his room playing, she constantly had to check in on Lucy, asking what she was doing. 

As our Lucy grows up, her back story could take a couple of different directions. One: Lucy decides since her mother doesn’t trust her, she may as well give her a reason not to and starts getting into real trouble. Lucy becomes a rebel. She becomes bad. If you’ve seen my posts on the lie our characters believe, you’ll find “I’m bad” on the list. That lie creates an interesting character.

Another avenue this could take is no matter how hard Lucy tries, she can’t get her mother to trust her. She can’t get the approval she seeks. Everyone wants approval, especially from the ones we love most. 

So dig deep. Don’t just settle on a lie for your character. And don’t settle for the first idea of what they want. Poke. Prod. Pick scabs. And keep at it until they give up their deepest hurt. That will make it easier to find the worst thing that could happen to them.

What was the biggest surprise your characters ever revealed when you poked?

Writing Better Books by Interviewing Your Characters - @AneMulligan on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

Dig deep and take time to interview the characters you write - @AneMulligan on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

Ane Mulligan writes Southern-fried fiction served with a tall sweet tea. She's a bestselling novelist, and playwright. Ane resides in Sugar Hill, GA, with her husband and a rascally Rottweiler who demands play dates with a whippet and a labradoodle. You can find Ane at her websiteAmazon Author pageFacebookTwitter, andPinterest.

1 comment:

  1. Great post Ms. Ane. Love learning from the masters ma'am.