Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Getting to the heart of the character--the character interview

I am going to share with you an amazing tool for developing your characters--the Character Interview. I wish I could claim it as my own original idea, but I cannot. I ran across the idea somewhere on the internet and have begun to use it on my current work in process with great results. Recently I "sat down" with one of my new characters as I felt I needed more of a focus on her. I visualized the setting in which the interview might take place, what she looked like, what she was wearing, and paid special attention to her mannerisms during the interview. I tried not to shape her answers to fit the storyline, but allowed her to do the talking.

The results were amazing. The longer the interview went on, the more I felt an understanding of the character as an individual and I now feel much more confidant when writing her into a scene.  For instance, I found out that she was an Aquarius and her full name was Mia Maria Sinatra (at the start of the interview, I only knew her first name).

I have several other main characters in the current work that I still need to interview (as they make themselves available to me LOL), but once those interviews are completed it's full steam ahead on the manuscript. In fact, I feel strongly that I shouldn't even set one more word to paper (or computer monitor) until I have completed the interviews--that's how valuable I think they are!

For those of you who enjoy writing, or perhaps even have just a germ of a story idea and need some sort of jumping off point to get it started, I have included the interview in this blog. It's a lengthy set of  questions that you can tweak as you see fit. Enjoy and I'd love to hear how you used the interview and what you found out about your characters!

The Character Interview

Set the scene. Visualize sitting down with your character to talk. Are you in a quiet office, or at a noisy restaurant? Is it daytime? Night time? Once you have a picture of the setting, visualize your character seated across from you. How do they react as you ‘interrogate’ them? Are they confidant, relaxed? Are they fidgety, nervous? Do they resent you asking such personal questions? Tell the control freak inside you to take the afternoon off, and let your character talk. Don’t try to manipulate the answers to fit your plot. You just want to get to know this character. Write down the first thing that comes to you. In fact, if you can get a “discussion” going over a certain question, then let it rip! Add questions, delete questions. Have fun!


Begin by asking… “What was your full given name at birth?”

1. What is your full name now?

2. If it is different from your birth name, why did it change?

3. Nickname, if any

4. Age

5. Birth date

6. Birth place

7. Birth order (oldest/middle/youngest)

8. Astrological sign (study for typical characteristics of the sign)

9. Height

10. Weight

11. Hair color

12. Eye color

13. Eyesight

14. Nationality

15. Is Nationality a factor for you? How?

16. Appearance (skin color scars/handicaps/deformities/birthmarks/posture)

17. Heredity; inherited characteristics

18. Speech pattern

19. Mannerisms

20. Traits (list from strongest to weakest trait)


Description of home: Interior/Exterior; Single/Condo/Apartment/Trailer

Geography (rural/city/coastal/mountains/plains)

Description of home atmosphere (physical/mental/emotional)


1. Class (upper, middle, lower)

2. Parents

3. Parents relationship with each other

4. Parents relationship with you

5. Siblings

6. Parents relationship with siblings

7. Your relationship with parents

8. Your relationship with siblings

9. Emotional atmosphere while growing up

10. What did you want from mother and never got

11. What did you want from father and never got

12. Sometimes you would look at parents and think:

13. How are you different when with your family than with your friends? Why?

HOME--Adult (Present)

Description of home: Interior/Exterior; Single/Condo/Apartment/Trailer

Geography (rural/city/coastal/mountains/plains)

Description of home atmosphere (physical/mental/emotional)

FAMILY--Adult (Present)

1. Single/Engaged/Married/Separated/Divorced

2. Spouse

3. Children

4. In-Laws

5. Extended family

6. Pet(s)

7. What does marriage mean to you

8. Emotional atmosphere at present

9. How are you different when with your family than with your friends? Why?


1. Sense of humor and kind

2. Ambitions/hopes and dreams

3. Immaculate/Slob at home/work

4. Finish this sentence: It is sometimes hard for people to talk to me because I

5. Do you learn by: observation/participation/trial and error/asks questions/writing

6. First thing you notice when you walk into a room: people/d├ęcor/things need fixing/tension

7. Perceive world: visual/problems to solve/conquer/uncharted territory

8. What do you absolutely hate to do, why?

9. Abilities

10. Principals

11. Behavioral pattern

12. Complexities (obsessions, inhibitions, phobias, superstitions, pet peeves)

13. Cravings

14. Compulsions

15. Flaws

16. Preferred fragrance/none?

17. Dress preference

18. Clothing color preference

19. You feel that you are the most like you when you wear

20. Favorite colors

21. Favorite foods

22. Favorite beverages

23. Morning/Night person

24. Indoor/Outdoor person

25. Couch potato/Sports/Hobbies

26. Extrovert/Introvert/Shy/Assertive

27. Domesticated

28. How do you behave in a foreign environment

29. Important attachment

30. Political affiliations/social groups, etc.

31. Kinds of music/art/books, etc. do you prefer?

32. Culture preferences (museums, theatre)

33. Culture preferences (community values, activities)


1. As an Adult--Class (upper, middle, lower)

2. Intelligence (i.e., natural, street smart, book smart, labored, etc.)

3. Education/degree?

4. Career/Job

5. Employer

6. Work experience

7. Work habits

8. Income

9. Work history

10. What is the secret to your success

11. Interests in school that may or may not effect adulthood


1. Cares about (motto lives by)

2. What makes you angry

3. What makes you envious

4. What really tries your patience

5. How do you take out your frustrations

6. Black/White or Grey way of thinking

7. Saint/Sinner/Combination of both

8. Temper

9. Temperament

10. Conscience

11. Hold a grudge/seek revenge

12. Trust: easy/not easy; experience with others; first impression; slow; fast

13. Likes/dislikes/frustrations/successes/failures

14. What do you like about yourself?

15. How do you control your anger?

16. How do you relax?

17. I feel happy when

18. I feel happy when people

19. I feel hurt when people

20. Loneliness to me means

21. Finish this sentence: Sometimes I feel that people think of me as

22. Sometimes I hide my hurt by

23. Sometimes I like to be alone because then I

24. Sometimes I’m afraid to be alone because then I

25. The kinds of buildings/stores I like to go to are…because…

26. What do you regret?

27. What do you regret never having done?


1. If you could change one physical thing about yourself, you’d change…because…

2. If you could have three wishes, you’d wish

3. If you could have three books, you’d pick…because…

4. If you were sure that no one would laugh at you, you’d

5. If the child in you could speak, he would tell you

6. If you could live in another time: why/when?

7. What do you fantasize about?

8. What is your favorite way to spend a night

9. One thing you wish people could know about you is

10. What do you do for excitement

11. What would you consider a perfect day

12. What would you consider a perfect date

13. What would you do over if you could

14. Where do you go for peace and quiet?


1. Best friend(s)

2. What best friend would say about you?

3. What worst enemy would say about you?

4. What you would say about yourself?

5. What people like about you?

6. What people don’t like about you?

7. Team player or not


1. Behavior patterns: how do you react:

a. In an emergency

b. A woman in tears

c. An angry child

2. At a gathering, where would you gravitate

3. What’s your response to a stranger: potential friend/enemy/rival/quick/reserved/guarded

4. Did you ever do anything on a dare

5. How do you react to: doubt/fear/guilt/pride/stress

6. In what situation are you most brave

7. In what situation are you most afraid

8. Where are you vulnerable

9. When was the last time you cried

10. The person who most influenced you is…because…

11. What is your least favorite memory

12. What is your favorite memory


1. Straight/Gay/Etc.

2. With whom would you have a fantasy affair

3. What do you think about sex

4. Sex affects a relationship, how

5. Could you be tempted to cheat on your partner?

6. Sexual attitude

7. How did you lose your virginity

8. The hardest thing about intimate communication is

9. Are you more comfortable around men or women

10. What attracts you most about your own sex is

11. What attracts you most about the opposite sex is

12. What attracts you most to the person you are attracted to

13. Complete this sentence: When a woman touches me, I feel

14. When a man touches me, I feel

15. Are you easy to fall in love with?

16. Easy to love? Why? Why not?

17. Do you fall in love quickly, gradually?

18. Do you notice it happening? Do you try to stop it?

19. What scares you most about being in a committed relationship?

20. What do you love the most about being in a committed relationship?

21. What does your lover know about you that no one else does

22. What does your lover love about you that no one else does

23. How are you different with your lover than with anyone else?


Moral standards

Are you always honest with others

Are you always honest with yourself

Do you support any charities and why?

What do you think of religion

How do you feel about dying


If you had a million dollars, you would

Money means to you


What trait will make this character come alive and why?

Will reader like/dislike character for same reason?


1. What is your Goal in the story?

2. How are you motivated to obtain this goal?

3. What is standing in your way of obtaining this goal?

4. How do you plan to achieve this goal?

5. Enemies with…and why

6. Do you have a Secret

7. How do you see yourself now/in five years

8. How will it get worse

9. What do you want to accomplish/find/or become by the end of the book? Why?

10. What is your self (internal obstacle) is preventing you from reaching your goal?

11. What will have to happen for you to overcome outside/inside obstacles?

12. One line characterization


Tell me about the day in your life you’ll never forget.