1. Talim
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    Talim Member

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    Interviewing your character

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Talim, Sep 5, 2011.

    Hey all,

    I was wondering something and at the same time I wanted to share something, though I'm not sure if it would be wanted.
    I've been writing my whole life but I'm kind of new to the whole tips and tricks thing. So maybe this has been mentioned before (I know 'interview' has).

    I noticed a lot of topics about trying to get to know your character better. I was wondering if there is anyone here who does what I start doing recently; really make it an interview.
    I don't list questions (though I have some questions open in another word pad) but I make it somewhat of a story. For instant, I start describing my character sitting in front of me, or wherever I picture him/her, and I open a dialogue.
    Example (Not asking for critique):

    And so on. I actually make it like I talk to them, have a real interview with them, and I find it works very well for me.
    Is there someone who does this too? Are there any more tips and tricks to this, any significant questions to ask other than the basic stuff?
     
  2. thakid87
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    thakid87 New Member

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    I am in the process of developing my characters for my first ever shot at writing something of length and I have to say that I like your method and will be giving it a shot.

    Before reading this I was just basically developing the character out of thin air, not very precise, I know.

    Thanks for the quick tip.
     
  3. Talim
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    Talim Member

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    You're welcome; I hope it will work for you too!
     
  4. mugen shiyo
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    mugen shiyo Contributing Member

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    I do like your method for some of the main characters, perhaps. I found it better to be a little more flexible, though. To make a rough sketch of who my character is and begin the story. As the story goes on, the character sort of grows and becomes clearer and clearer and her background begins to merge with the story rather than me having to write a story around each characters predetermined background.
     
  5. Talim
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    Talim Member

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    Yes, I get what you're saying. For me it works best to do different things; some characters this works for, but only for real important ones but those are the ones you want to deepen anyway. Sometimes this just gives me a rough sketch and I have to write the story to come up with new ideas, to get to know them better, but when I have a bit of an idea who I want to create, this helps a great deal.

    Plus, it's so much fun!
     
  6. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    These threads pop up constantly. There's usually one, probably buried only a page or two back. Do a search for "character interviews" and you'll see what people's opinions on it are.

    And, for future reference, if someone narrowed their eyes at you, would you really be paying attention to the colour? It's really, really annoying to see people write things like, "She tossed her dirty blonde hair over her shoulder." Or, "His cool, clear blue eyes blinked."
     
  7. Hawwyboo
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    Hawwyboo Member

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    How about getting other people to interview your character? So you roleplay the character and answer somebody else's questions. If you are the interviewer you may, consciously or subconsciously, ask questions you already know the answers to just so you can put them down on paper, whereas if someone else is the interviewer you may get some unexpected questions that you don't immediately know the answer to, thus developing the character in a new direction.
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    My opinion:

    Character interviews are pointless, and a complete waste of time.

    Your character is shaped and revealed through the stories you write about her. Character interviews are a form of procrastination that novices employ convincing themselves this is somehow shaping their character for them.

    You can overconstrain your character through this type of exercise. Sure, the author should have a clearer view of the character than the readers do, but you should still keep that visualization as fluid as possible. Your character should be free to bend and evolve as youre story takes shape, and solidifying your character in advance can interfere with that process.

    Grt to know your characters as you get to know those around you in real life. Know them by your day to day interactions with them.
     
  9. Solar
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    Solar Contributing Member Contributor

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    Interviewing your character can be very helpful; and just like interviewing in real life, it all depends on the quality of the questioning.
    It can help you get into the character's shoes and develop the character's voice. Write it as though it was a story in itself and you can still 'keep the visualisation fluid'.

    Interviewing characters can:

    1) be a 'day to day situation' from which you learn about him/her and thus get to know them better.

    2) be good for developing/practicing the character's voice and for practicing dialogue.

    3) help you realise things about the story and gain a deeper insight into the character and plot.

    However, I'm not saying that cog's approach is wrong. I'm just saying that some people find these types of exercises beneficial. 'Horses for courses', as the useful cliche goes.
     
  10. mugen shiyo
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    mugen shiyo Contributing Member

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    I like that quote. Sums it up pretty well, I think.
     
  11. Show
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    Interviewing them only tells you about them at any one point. So IMO, it's only so helpful since good characters have changes throughout a story.
     
  12. Talim
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    Thanks for all your opinions, it's interesting to read.

    I do feel like the interview is a day by day interaction by the way, because it doesn't just sum up what the character is about. And I don't make it really long either; it's just something to help out if I'm stuck and I want to know how'd they react. Like writing a scene and just dropping them in to see how it goes.

    But everyone's got their own way.
     
  13. Solar
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    Solar Contributing Member Contributor

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    A remedy to that would be: interview the character at different points in the story, and see how he responds to the same questions. This can help one achieve a clear contrast and identify the changes that have taken place within the character's 'internal landscape'.

    As William Blake wrote: 'The man who never alters his opinion is like standing water, and breeds reptiles of the mind.'
     
  14. lanphea
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    lanphea New Member

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    I have to agree with Cogito that character interviews are a waste of time. The only real way to get to know your character is by writing about them. A character in a book should be no different than someone you've met in real life. If you interviewed everyone you met, you'd end up with a whole lot of unimportant information that is of no relevance to who they really are.

    Now I'm not saying you shouldn't have an idea of what and who your character is before you write about them, but interviewing is not the way to go about it. I'm not trying to be harsh, but for a better understanding of why this is a fairly detrimental practice, think about it this way. When many novice visual artists are attacking a piece, they start out with a thick outline and work within that barrier. This is a very bad habit because it limits the artists ability to broaden their ideas of the work. They are trapping themselves within the lines. Interviewing a character can act in this same manner. Not only do you have overly thick lines, or pointless information that gets in the way, but you are trapping both yourself and your character within the interviewed boundaries. It's better to get to know your characters as your write, rather then trying to develop them entirely before the fact.

    I feel that this mentality is also why we get so many writers that, when describing their characters, tend to list off qualities. Not only does this prove a poor ability to execute the written word, but it jams the readers ability to comprehend what is being said. By listing off these characteristics, hair color, body type, clothing, you are removing the reader from the story and boring them with details that are not always relevant. How a character looks should be worked into the piece, not stated outright, unless doing so is of significance to the story. Interviewing a character is, I'm afraid, something that will lead to this. The writer, after finding out all this useless information about their character, wants to cram it into the story in an attempt to make the reader privy to an equivalent of the interview.

    When creating a new character, the best method of knowing how to write them is to be vague when developing them. When considering personality, don't write a whole page worth of information that traps your character within those expectations. Try only a few words, like "aloofly indifferent" or "constantly irritated." By keeping it short and simple, you have managed to create a tone for the character, but still left them open for development.

    Creating an appearance for your character is another matter entirely, and I'm not going to go into it here because it's quite irrelevant, but by avoiding interviews, you will easier be able to avoid listing characteristics both physically and mentally.

    Overall, you're much better off getting to know your characters as you would anyone else, through experience.
     
  15. Show
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    But again, it still only provides a limited insight into the character. As writers, we can get inside these characters as they experience. Thus, I think writers are at the point where they shouldn't need to interview their characters. They already have something better at their disposal.
     
  16. Solar
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    Solar Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, I have to disagree with some of Ianphea's comments. Just because you've interviewed the character, doesn't mean it's set in stone and can't be changed or altered; nor does it mean you have to include all the data in the actual prose of the story i.e. detailing the facts in a dry list form. Writing the prose is a different job altogether and requires the skill of an author.
    It's down to the writer's judgement and improvisational skills. If you allow yourself to be trapped, then you will be trapped.
    But what this exercise can do is get the juices flowing, that is, it can help stimulate the mind, rather like a brainstorm. Also, you can delve deeper into their psyche and get a more profound understanding of their inner workings (subconscious etc). When we get to know people in the real world, it's generally on a more superficial level.

    I feel you are being a little bit alarmist and being a tad over dramatic; and you presume that everyone (who uses this exercise) rejects all other methods. I think you are right about some things, some beginner writers do miss the point of character development exercises and thus produce weak results. Used correctly though, it can be beneficial.
     
  17. Solar
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    Solar Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm not sure what you mean. Can you be a little more explicit, please?

    Also, what you call 'limited insight' could actually be termed: 'added insight'.
     
  18. lanphea
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    lanphea New Member

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    I'm not saying that certain things can't be changed, I'm simply stating that on a subconscious level, it makes it more difficult. My intent was to reveal that interviewing can lead to these unfortunate practices and that by avoiding it, you may also avoid other less advanced ways of writing. Many new writers do not consciously consider what is necessary and what isn't, so why not avoid developing bad habits early on?

    As for becoming trapped, that too is not something a lot of writers can consciously admit to doing. It's a mental game, and by avoiding such things entirely, you avoid both this predicament and having to acknowledge it. This too allows the juices of creativity to flow more freely. As for an interview delving more deeply into the psyche of a character, I really have to disagree. Perhaps this could be true, rarely, but many of the characters deeper qualities are revealed by actions in the story, not by a character profile, which I believe to be superficial. Like any person, it is not so much what they say, an interview, but how they act in certain situations that reveals to others who they truly are.

    Sadly, I'm afraid I don't quite understand what you mean by over dramatic, I was simply stating my opinion on the subject, nor did I insinuate that those who do use character interviews are closed off to other methods. I was merely stating that I thought it was a poor practice. If anything is superficial when developing a character, it is a profile or interview. To me, it is the equivalent of judging someone before you know them. That is why it may be better to remain more vague in the beginning until you are more familiar with the character.
     
  19. Hawwyboo
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    If the only good way to develop characters is to do so at the same time as writing their stories why does the Character Development forum exist? If Character Development is so pointless outside of a story's plot it might as well just be merged with the Plot Creation forum.
     
  20. Solar
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    Solar Contributing Member Contributor

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    i'm sorry, but you were being dramatic by implying that these kinds of exercises will definitely lead to bad prose. But, I'm sure there are many writers who produce excellent novels and incorporate some of these techniques into the construction of their novel. Are you going to tell them to give it all up because it's 'bad practice'?
    And you did insinuate that those who use 'character interviews' are closed off. Why can't one use a 'character interview' and other methods in unison?

    Yes, your method may work for you, but have you considered that not everyone has the same characteristics as you and therefore may find other ways that suit their natural character? You were speaking as if a character interview is some kind of commitment from which one cannot return.

    Regarding the delving deeper: I agree, actions can reveal a character's inner landscape, but so can probing. Both of them are useful and therefore are legitimate tools for a writer.
    It all depends on the 'interview'. If it's more of a psychological assessment, it can be beneficial to ask questions and see how the character responds, and then question the answers, probing into his past, finding out early stages of his conditioning. In essence, you are asking yourself questions, and these questions demand that you think about it. This exercises the mind, and causes one to delve deeper into the inner landscape. It's a type of dialectic.
    Of course, this isn't suitable for everyone, so I wouldn't insist on everyone using this method. It's only superficial when you ask superficial questions.
     
  21. Show
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    Interviews don't really provide much insight at all. It just doesn't seem a productive way to get to know characters. It's an intrinsically inferior way to get to know a character. Writers don't need to interview their own characters.

    And how is it added insight when you can find out all of that and more by simply taking the journey with the character? It's not really added insight as much as settling for less. What exactly can an interview tell you that is really "added"?
     
  22. Solar
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    Solar Contributing Member Contributor

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    See my previous post.
     
  23. Show
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    ^^^^Again, there just isn't any real benefit to interviewing a character. It's an inferior practice.
     
  24. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Absolute statements regarding benefit or no benefit don't make sense. This type of approach is individualized to the writer. Some writers may derive a great deal of benefit from it, others may get no benefit at all from the practice. Just go with what works for you as a writer.
     
  25. spklvr
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    spklvr Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'd say character interviews are pointless when it comes to developing characters, but they are an excellent way to regain some inspiration about a piece if you're totally out of ideas. If I just have no idea where a story should be going, I like to do character interviews or just write about random scenes from their lives. It really gets the creative juices flowing.
     

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