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.