Character interviews and character questionnaires—the point of these is for the author of the character to get to know him by asking him rounds of questions. If it’s a questionnaire, it will look something like this:
And so forth. This is a way to find out a lot about your character…but most likely stuff you may never, ever use because it’s not important to the story. I’m not saying questionnaires are wrong and useless—quite the contrary. They can be very helpful and useful to some writers, but other writers may find them overwhelming.
Now though, there is such a thing as ‘character interviews’. In these, the author asks the character a question, and the character shows his or her personality through the answers. These work exceptionally well in order to get to know your character for yourself, but there’s only one problem. You interview your own character, and the character is in your head, and your own thoughts could influence the character’s response. This isn’t bad because this is just a fact of writing, but what if there’s a better way to interview characters? This is something I’ve explored with multiple authors.
This new format is very similar to the new kind of author interview I introduced a few weeks ago. A fictional scene is set, two of us meet, we write in third person, questions are asked, questions are answered, and you see the character in action rather than merely hearing their responses. For the Character Interviews, I allowed the authors to choose the setting—something from their story world—so their character would feel comfortable on their own turf.
I then came in, and I am not a character—this was difficult for both author and character to comprehend, and they kept trying to tie me to their reality, but I had to stay outside their reality because it allowed me to ask questions that would probably get another character of the story killed. How exactly did I remain outside their reality? I set one rule: no touching. Even if a character did try to touch me, he would pass through me as through I were a ghost. This was incredibly helpful when I came face-to-face to some savage, bloodthirsty villains because I was able to ask them pointed questions they hated to hear, and if they lashed out at me, they couldn’t harm me. This accomplished two things: 1) took control away from the villains, and they loathe that, so it shows a different shade of them, and 2) allowed me to stay focused on the interview and questions rather than getting caught up in an actual story scene. The point of these interviews is to ask questions—not become part of a story. That is why I set that rule in place.
Not all characters I interviewed were antagonists. Sometimes I interviewed the protagonist, and depending on the character’s personality, it was either a witty and charming interview or it was a cautious, carefully probing questioning. Some characters were forthright and confident, but others were withdrawn, distrusting, and insecure. To each of these, I had to adapt my approach to ask them questions.
What does this kind of character interview accomplish? In this type of interview, there is the element of the unknown. Neither you nor your character know what I will ask next. You are confident that you know your characters very well, and instead of trying to trip them up yourself with difficult questions, you’re completely backing up your character. Both your character and you are absolutely engaged in answering the question—rather than you trying to come up with questions which your character may or may not answer. Having someone from the outside come in and interview the character in a story form really gives the author and the readers a chance to learn who that character is. Being able to use body language allows for the character to show his true colors without having to say anything. I once interviewed a villain who I enraged so much that he had to go and get a drink, but he was still furious and squeezed the glass until it burst in his hand…and then he answered my question. If we were just showing the question and answer, we wouldn’t have been able to show his full rage.
Since an outside person is asking the question, this allows the author to learn so much about their character because they are forced to dig deep and find answers to questions they may never have thought of to ask. Sometimes the author realizes their character is completely cliché and shallow. In these cases, I’d pause the interview and inform the author of my observations. If they wanted to know how to make a stronger character, I’d make recommendations, and then we’d redo the interview after they’ve had a chance to recreate the character. It is amazing to observe the difference between the two interviews once the author has really delved deep into his character and forced him to take shape rather than letting him be ambiguous. But most characters I’ve interviewed have been well-developed. It’s just a matter of probing deep and uncovering the truth behind their motives and the depth of their beliefs.
Here’s what a few of the authors, whose characters I interviewed, said about the experience:
Nan Sampson Bach
This was possibly the most fun I’ve ever had! I knew my villain had a short temper, even though he prides himself on being so controlled. Kelly managed to enrage him so much he completely lost it. It was hilarious! The questions really made me think too (seriously, it was getting hard to tell who was doing the thinking, me or him), about his motivations, his underlying belief systems and a host of other things. I thought I had a handle on it, but this interview brought up some good stuff I can play with. So not only a FAB time, but useful for me the author and hence for my readers too! Thank you, Kelly!
So I have to be honest, this interview was a mulligan. The first time Kelly interviewed this character, he did not perform well. I don’t have a lot of experience writing villains and it showed. That being said, this interview was a huge learning experience! Kelly was awesome. She was patient and encouraging, but was very direct about what could be improved. That directness was tempered with kindness and an attitude of wanting to see a fellow writer improve their craft, which cushioned her critique. The “redo” interview was much better, and I really felt like I got to know my own character. She really made me dig into his motivations, and she didn’t hold back in asking him tough questions. It’s helpful to sit down and actually role play a character, which is something I hadn’t really done prior to this interview. This was one of the best learning experiences I’ve had as a writer. I would encourage other writers who want to do this interview to be willing to listen to the opinion of others, and at least be willing to consider that opinion. You may learn something new about your character you never considered before.
I found Kelly Blanchard’s character interviews a fascinating journey into my own character. It is an interesting experience to take a character out of my own head and make them come alive for another person. As a writer, it is a challenge I loved as it brought me a greater awareness as to my character’s motivation and potential. Thanks, Kelly, for the opportunity.
Kelly approached me to do a character interview and, for some strange reason, I agreed. I’d never done a character interview before so I wasn’t sure how it would work out. I was worried about it and considered making an excuse to get out of it. Even at zero hour, as I was typing up the intro to get the interview started, part of me was still trying to think of how to get out of it. I couldn’t think of anything and I’m glad I didn’t. The interview was a lot of fun, and I was sad when our time was up. Kelly has a way of putting interviewees at ease and make the interview fun. Janus, the character I used for the interview, is very reticent when it comes to talking about himself, but Kelly got him to open up and reveal more than he has in any of the stories he’s appeared in. She even got him to reveal his plans for the future. Those plans were a surprise to me because I didn’t know anything about them. Because Kelly was able to make the interview fun and interesting, I enjoyed the process and learned something about my character that I didn’t know before. Kelly is a skilled and delightful interviewer. She can interview me or my characters any time she wants.
In my second interview with Kelly, I was able to explore the personality of a supporting character who previously hadn’t seemed real to me. The style of interview was vital to this exploration. Kelly entered the world of my character, Myriam, with curiosity and openness. She easily grasped the unusual setting, psychological climate and areas of conflict. She asked probing questions, gently suggested potential pathways, and showed a general spirit of empathy. Immersing myself fully in my character’s reality, I was able to draw from intuitive methods as well as intellectual ones to understand her better than I had before.
Virginia Carraway Stark
This is what it is like:
You open those doors in your mind that release your characters to be free in their world. When you go to those familiar places, you notice something different…A new door where there was no door before.
That is what it is like to be interviewed as your character like my character, Sasha Wheaton, was interviewed last week by Kelly Blanchard. It’s the same as writing in many ways but with the added dimension of penetrating, rational thought being added to the process. By adding this we don’t just stay in our character’s comfort zone but penetrate deep into their hearts and minds. You’ll find more there than when you first opened that door. A vital tool for all writers seeking to hone their craft, and if you’re a writer, you always are a seeker.
These are just a few examples of what people have experienced with this form of character interviews. I am currently still in the process of finishing all 25 interviews, and that won’t wrap up until next week. I will begin posting the interviews regularly once I’m finished, and you can find the interviews on my other blog: Meeting With The Muse.
Writers have discovered this to be a fun and unique way to get exposure for their work as well as introduce their characters, story, and writing style to readers, and I intend to continue offering this service to writers. If you are interested, you may join my group on Facebook: Author Kelly Blanchard, and watch for the announcement when I open the invitation for more people to be interviewed.
You never know what you’ll learn in these interviews, and this is a very unique way to introduce you and your work to potential readers.