Writing tip - interviewing your characters

Hi. Welcome to my blog post. Today's post wasn't planned. I happened to be searching through my filing cabinet like it was Twitter or the fridge, meaning I didn't know what I was looking for but I found something. It was an interview of the characters from my first published novel "The Bird with the Broken Wing".

As a writer I've read many blog posts and articles discussing the benefits of interviewing your characters. Many that I've seen suggest we ask our characters a series of questions, however when I read through my interviews I was impressed at how much information these characters provided to allow me to create their backstory by asking just two questions:

Who are you and why should I share your story?

I found this an effective way to develop my characters for my first published novel, so I thought I'd share these interviews with you.


The first question I asked each character was:

Character 1 - Who are you and why should I share your story?

Ben Taylor:

I'm a 19 year old private in the army who became depressed after six months in Iraq where I witnessed many innocent civilians die senselessly by my own troop's guns.

I spend all day staring at a mirror I think is haunted. I talk about my mom a lot. I don't know why I'm here but if I remember I'm sure I'll kill myself. So I'm content to sit around and do nothing, even though Rachael pesters me about remembering the war. Then one day a girl shows up and starts asking me questions about my mom.

My mom has mild dementia. She's forgetful and sometimes goes missing for days when she'd just ducked out to the shops. Luckily we live in a caring community. Still, I got sick of taking care of her so I went and enlisted in the army, and even though I saw horrible things over in Iraq, it is the guilt I feel at leaving my 14 year old sister to look after my mom that haunts me. If I can't forgive myself for deserting her I'll be stuck in Purgatory forever.

I also asked Ben to tell me a bit about life as a soldier in Iraq so I had an idea of his backstory and how to write it.

Ben Taylor:
Tabasco sauce is considered a hit.

Because we could not find terrorists or weapons of mass destruction we took it out on the civilians. It was too easy to kill over there.
Army first, God second, family third.

Even after the war, doors blowing open in the wind will have me reaching for my .20 gauge shotgun.

Some guys have no reason to go home after receiving Dear John letters.

Character 2 - Who are you and why should I share your story?

I am Ben Taylor's guardian angel and it's my job to help him remember his time in Iraq so he can ascend to Heaven. But when another angel shows up I start questioning my ability. The new angel helps Ben ascend so technically I'm out of a job. so I'm stuck in Purgatory with Jet Jones, until I realise she's my next assignment. Jet is pulled back down to her body to face her troubles and takes me with her, thus giving us both a second chance.

Mortals see angels how they want to, so Jet sees me as a chubby, overweight 14 year old girl with straight black hair and sky blue eyes ( herself at that age). Ben sees me as a thin, freckle-faced kid with flowing red hair and blue eyes ( his sister). To both of them I am annoying as I won't leave either of them alone for a second and I'm constantly trying to get them to talk about their feelings.

I asked Rachael to tell my something about guardian angels I might not already know.

Each one of you has an angel appointed especially for you.

Angels do not develop an ongoing relationship with you. We do our work then slip quietly into the background so all the glory goes to God and not to us.

Why don't we angels save everyone from a burning building? Why do some people survive and not others? Because angels are not privileged to serve on the panel that decides who survives car crashes, burning buildings, hurricanes etc.

The third character in this book is one that some readers felt should have been the star, however she is the inciting incident of the story, which is to say that without her there would be no story, but this is not about her failings, it's about the failings of the guardian angel.

Character 3 - Who are you and why should I share your story?

Jet Jones:
I'm a 17 year old teenager who is halfway through my final year in school when something terrible happens and I decide to overdose on alcohol and sleeping tablets rather than riding the waves. Any why would I take the easy way out> Because my father has a government job as a financial regulator and his a control freak who never lets me or my mother do anything. I wish my mum would leave my dad and run away with me to somewhere where he can't find us/ He never let me do anything, so it's no wonder I hooked up with the first boy who paid me attention.

Lucas is my boyfriend. He's 20. The appeal is because my controlling father never lets me do anything so I rebelled by hooking up with a boy who has a car and money. But Lucas is bad news and is only after one thing. When he gets it he dumps me and tells everyone in school that I'm a slut. So what, I got drunk at a party doesn't mean he can take advantage of me. No wonder I was so humiliated I tried to kill myself.

And it's no wonder that when I wake up in the most beautiful place I decide to stay forever. Who needs to get better and go back to that living hell?

I asked Jet to tell my something about teenagers that I might find useful to include in the book.

Jet Jones:
We text often.

We think everything is life and death and about us.

We are emotional and moody.

We are smarter than adults give us credit for.

We think we know everything.

These days I do things a bit differently. I have a different set of character questions to ask, but I'm wondering if I shouldn't return to this simple method of asking my characters who they are and why should I tell their story? I found out so much about them and even reading back on these interviews, I felt love and sadness and compassion for them.

I hope these interviews help you with creating complex characters.

Here's a few other things to remember!!!

A character shouldn't be perfect, they should be complex.

How much of the back story you present to the reader is up to you.

How much realism you put into your character is up to you and also depends on the story. Sometimes we need a hero.

If you have any techniques you want to share, post them in the comments. I love hearing from other writers.


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