Day 14 - Interview Your Characters

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By Wattpad's @TheStyclarSaga
Writer of The Styclar Saga

So, you have your story outline, perhaps you've gone as far as to completely plot and plan your entire story. You've done your research, made a cup of tea, and now you've sat down to write... You're excited. This is going to be the best thing you have written yet. And, oh goody, it's time to introduce your hero!

You're ready to start typing.

But he doesn't speak. 


You start feeding him lines... he's supposed to be the bad boy, all brooding and bloomin' gorgeous. You had every inch of him detailed in your mind's eye, but now you're making him talk, what he's saying is coming out all wrong, and not at all as you had envisioned. 

You ask yourself if it's you? Are you just having a bad writing 'moment'? Are you tired, your wit simply just not as sharp today? It's possible, but it's also possible you haven't explored your character enough before bringing him to life on the page. 

You imagined him to be tall, dark and handsome; that every sentence he would part with would be laced with witty, arrogant sarcasm. But, the more you type his lines, the more he feels like a cookie-cutter character. 

There's nothing behind his eyes. You say there is, you make a beautiful, poetic statement that tells your reader this, but the truth is you know there's not, and the reason there's not is because you don't even know what's behind his eyes yet... If you did, you'd be showing, not telling. 

You need to explore your character. 

If he's meant to be a bit rough around the edges, and a bit of a loner, you need to know why. 

And to find out why, my tip would be to interview him.

Yup, that's right—interview him. 

And when interviewing him, you need to consider the three dimensions that help to make up his character, if you want to avoid a cardboard cut out.

The Three Dimensional Character:
The physiological, the sociological and the psychological.

Physical features and attributes—height, sex, age, health etc.

First, write down his physical features, then starting looking beyond the basic description.

Let's say your bad boy has got tanned skin and shaggy dark hair, with massive, swallow your soul, chestnut eyes, which are hard, but when you plotted, you wanted them to soften when faced with your heroine (we will revisit this point)... 

Okay, so by all accounts his appearance rather makes him a bit on the swoon-worthy side— marvelous. But he must have some flaws, nobody's perfect right?

Yes, upon questioning him, you discover he has a scar across his eyebrow running down his cheek. You ask some more questions and you discover that when he was 14 he was involved in an accident, and he ended up with this physical flaw, a flaw he couldn't hide. After the accident people looked at him differently, he wasn't seen or treated in the same way that he was before. 

You wonder how would that affect who he is today. Do strangers assume he's in some sort of gang? Do people in the street avoid him? Do old friends feel uncomfortable, and unable not to stare in his presence?

Who was your bad boy before this incident happened? Was he shy and charming? Did he become angered by society, let down even? Is that why he blocks people out, and ultimately became the loner he is today?

Let's revisit the hard eyes, which you had hoped would soften for your heroine. 

When he first meets your heroine, does he treat her poorly, the way he does everyone else? Does she say something; do something, that ignites a spark within him? And if so, what does she say or do that compels him to want to spend time with her?

Ask him!

He tells you that she quotes a line from a very old piece of literature, from the same book that was his mother's favorite—a mother who died 5 years ago.

Your heroine has already looked beyond his scar, but does she then set out to crack his bad boy exterior, thinking his walls are of his own making? If she tries, how do you think he'll feel, and react?

Lets look at a really basic physical attribute—your bad boy has a height of 6ft 3 which means he's spent his life looking down at people, but your heroine is 6ft 2, she's awkward with it, but for once he's looking someone straight in the eye.

How does that make him see her?

Ask him!

The Sociological:
The way society impacts who your character is as a person.

Ask your bad boy where he grew up, and what type of family he grew up in. Were they religious? Did they have strong political views? Now, as a young adult does he agree/ disagree with them?

What can be said of his moral fibre? Would your bad boy stop to help a homeless person on the street, or just walk past them without even a glance?

These things all contribute to your character's layers.

The Psychological:
These are things like fears, inherent traits, and habits.

What does your bad boy fear? If you've discovered from the sociological questions that he grew up in a deeply religious family, does he therefore fear hell? Or, did growing up with religion cause him to reject it later in his teens? When his mother died was he accepting of her death, or did he turn his back on his faith?

You now know your bad boy was involved in an accident, which resulted in a physical scar, and that he lost his mother, but did he suffer any other traumas when he was a child or a tween? If so, what happened? How did he feel about it? How does he feel about it now?

Let's say you ask him and you learn that not only did his mother die, but he never knew his father, and with no other family, or at least non that cared to come forward, he was placed into foster care at age 15. Does that mean he now has a fear of abandonment? And if yes, does that make him act in a possessive and controlling way with people that he develops an attachment to? If yes, is he aware of it? Does he recognize it? Does he possess that level of self-perception? Does this give him yet more reason to remain alone and not let anyone in?

And so on and so forth...

A good, dynamic character is like an onion; they will have all sorts of layers. Creating a detailed biography, or interviewing your character before you start breathing them into life on the page will help you to explore, and understand them.

Just from this little exercise, we have gone from having a rough around the edges, sarcastic bad boy, who lets face it, we knew very little about, and who wouldn't speak because, quite frankly, we weren't sure what he would say. To a character we now know has lost, who has suffered, and who builds walls perhaps to protect himself and others from his less than perfect qualities.

You now understand your character that much better, keep digging and you'll be able to show what's going on beyond his hard eyes in no time.

Righty, go and boil that kettle again, and sit down to write the best thing you have ever written!

(Reference: The Three Dimensional Character is fully detailed and explored in 'How To Write A Damn Good Novel' by James N. Frey).

- Nikki Kelly 

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