Recently, a friend of mine confessed to having a bit of trouble with one of her characters. This one was more complex than most of her others, and at first he seemed to elude her. Why is this the case for some characters?
In my opinion, these are the ones that are begging you to dig deeper. Just like in real life, some people are very surface-level, what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of people. You could easily write about them in first-person if you wanted to without much prodding at all.
But then, there are those like Logan’s character, Keith, (in her upcoming novel, Stockholm Sexy), whose ‘personhood’ isn’t fully visible on the surface level. In first drafts of Stockholm Sexy, Keith’s character was flat and boring, but not because he was a boring character. He’s quite the opposite.
When Logan came to me and asked my opinion on fleshing him out, I told her to “interview” him. Invite him over for dinner, out for drinks, etc., and write about the experience. Her reaction was priceless. Basically it was, “Okay, I’ll do this, but don’t tell anyone.” She felt like the exercise was a bit on the lame side, but I assured her it has helped me get to know a few of my more elusive characters in the past and I swear by it’s effectiveness.
Since Logan is so close to the story, it was hard for her to be objective about this interview and the questions to ask Keith, so she asked me for my help with some. Having her tell me a bit of surface-level traits and facts about Keith, I tailored a twenty-questions interview for him. She was able to answer the questions quickly and was very happy with the results. She felt like it really helped her to better know his backstory, and to make him more real to her, which in turn, will bring him to life in the story.
It was actually her idea for me to blog about this. I’m glad she suggested it though, because it’s true; I do see a lot of characters, especially in self-published work, that seriously need some fleshing out. Either the authors are afraid to put in the elbow grease to bring their characters to life, they feel like they have to pump out ten novels this year, or maybe they just don’t realize their characters are flat. Whatever the case, I invite you to at least try this. Choose a character and make it your aim to know all those juicy details. You’ll see results, I promise.
I’m posting the interview below that I put together for Logan’s character, Keith. If you have a hard time doing your own questions, maybe have an author friend put some together for you.
Quote from Logan: “If you have a fellow author ask the questions they are new to you and the character in your head, and it’s like they have to react in ways you’ve never seen before, direct and it is revealing!”
So, here they are, the interview questions for “Keith” from Stockholm Sexy:
(Keep in mind this list is catered to a specific character type. Your list should be created with what you or someone else knows about your character in mind.)
20 Questions for Keith
Keith, the nature of the questions that follow may be somewhat uncomfortable for you. Please understand that I am only trying to get to know you as a person, and if at any time you feel you cannot or do not want to answer the questions, please just state so. But please, for the sake of the story, try to be as forthcoming as possible.
1. Give me one word to describe your home life as a child.
2. Did/do you have brothers/sisters?
3. Were any of you abused?
4. If the answer to number three was yes, could you describe the nature of the abuse?
5. Was there ever any incest between you and your brother(s) and sister(s)?
6. Did your parents have a good relationship?
7. Were there drugs and alcohol in your home as a child?
8. At what age did you start experimenting with drugs and alcohol?
9. How was school? Did you do well? Graduate? Go to college?
10. When did you start having sex? What was your sex life like as a teen?
11. Have you ever raped anyone?
12. Have you ever gotten anyone pregnant? If so, what happened to the baby?
13. What would you say was the single biggest motivator in your parent’s lives?
14. What is the biggest motivator in your life?
15. Have you ever killed anyone?
16. If the answer to the previous question was ‘yes,’ when did you first kill someone?
17. Have you ever felt guilty about killing anyone?
18. What are your three biggest regrets in life?
19. If you could live someone else’s life, no questions asked, what would that life be? What would your profession be? Who would you be married to? Would you have children? What kind of parent would you be?
20. Three things you are afraid of:
So, there you have it. Logan asked me if I wanted to see the answers and I told her no. I think it will be fun to read the book and see how many of these I can figure out on my own, don’t you? If you’d like to stop by and check out Logan’s Blog and stay updated about the forthcoming release of Stockholm Sexy, click HERE.
Don’t be afraid to put in the time and effort to get to know your characters. You won’t regret it. In fact, you’ll find it is very rewarding, not only for you, but for your story, and ultimately, for your reader. As the late great Ernest Hemingway so brilliantly put it: “When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.”
Until next time, writerly friends . . .
Write on! 😀