When I was a senior in high school, I got the once-in-a-rarity opportunity to interview my favorite author. I grew up reading Robert Liparulo’s teen fiction in junior high. In fact, when the books were coming out, I remember actually having fights with my friends over who got to read the next one first. One particular instance involved me throwing Whirlwind on the table between my two friends as they both dove for it, pleading to the others’ humanity, bribing each other for the chance to read it first.
Anyway, the following interview was turned in for my senior writing class, now resurrected here on my blog:
Robert Liparulo is the bestselling Christian author of the widely acclaimed teen fiction Dreamhouse Kings series, as well as his adult fiction such as Comes a Horseman, Germ, and his adult series The Immortal Files.
As a creative writing student and a Christian YA author wannabe—not to mention a huge fan of Liparulo’s works—I immediately wanted to try meeting with him for an interview assignment. We worked out a time through email, and I had the privilege to meet with him via Skype Saturday night. Mr. Liparulo was extremely nice and a blast to talk to—very warm and friendly, and he had a great laugh!
At my college, every year the professional writing and art students come together to produce a literary publication full of stories, essays, poems, and illustrations from the previous year. We call it Fountains.
As a high school student, I remember seeing Fountains advertised in the direct mail we received occasionally, and I determined right then that I would one day be published in PCC’s publication one way or another.
As a Freshman, I submitted a short fiction piece that was too long for consideration (ten pages, I think). But since I hadn’t had any writing classes yet and didn’t know what kind of process the writing went through, I didn’t mind too much; I would get in next year.
As a Sophomore I submitted my short fiction, “Keep Calm and Dinner On,” and hoped for the best. I wouldn’t hear back until the spring of that year, and even if I did make it in, I wouldn’t be published until the year after.
I waited. And waited.
And then Devon Counterman caught me at the beginning of journalism and told me I had been accepted.
If you’ve been writing for any length of time, you’ve probably come across that one blog that suggests character interviews is the solution to every writer’s writing block. Then they’ll give you a long fill-in-the-blank worksheet that has questions entirely irrelevant to your character’s interests. Why do you want to know about their love life? Who cares if they have a theme song? And they don’t have time for sports — the world is at stake, for Pete’s sake!
I will say that Charahub is a pretty legit place for these kinds of questions, but I personally think interviews are mostly useless unless you’ve already got a pretty good grasp on the character’s main interests that pertain specifically to the plot of your story. Only after you figure out their most immediate concerns (saving the world), can you focus on love lives and sports.
That being said, over the years I’ve discovered different ways to learn your character’s psyche — and some of these ways I’ve never heard recommended anywhere else.
I’ve been working on a single story for over six years now, ever since junior high when the idea for a YA science fiction popped into my head late one night after most of my family was in bed. Eager to tell the tale, I began writing. The first things that appeared in my head were automatically “canon” to the novel for no other reason other than I needed content and a story; I wrote what I’ve since called a “word vomit.”
Seven months later, when I finished the draft, I was so proud of it. But as I took time off, learned how to write better, read more of the YA genre, I realized I was woefully unprepared for the publishing house at the eager age of fourteen. One of the things my mom told me when she read over it was that my characters needed work, and that, when I wrote the second draft, I would better learn who they were and be able to write them consistently.
Six years later, I’m still working on the same series, but this time my characters are completely different people from when I started out. I started considering them to be friends — friends I didn’t try to bend to my will, but friends that had their own personalities, beliefs, likes and dislikes. Suddenly my two main female characters weren’t carbon copies of my “good side” and “bad side,” but their own persons.
One of the ways I solved problems for underdeveloped characters is through character interviews. These are different from character journals, which I’ve been told also work, but never did well for me. Maybe because I was still pulling the strings of my character’s marionette instead of jumping into the story myself as my own character.