Hello, and welcome to part two of this character interview post series. Here’s where we get down to the nitty-gritty. What is a character interview and how to do it? How do you know that your character is actually speaking in their voice and you’re not just answering your own questions? Those, I think, are the essential questions when you’re talking about a character interview and how to do one.
HOW TO DO A CHARACTER INTERVIEW
The first step in doing a character interview is to know what you want out of it. Do you need to get to know your character for the first time? If so you’ll need to do a much different kind of interview than a character that you’ve written four previous novels about. Getting to know someone for the first time is after all a different conversation than you have with your friends after knowing them and going back to catch up with them after a while.
The second step is to come up with a set of questions for the interview. I find it helpful to have a set for each type of interview (ie new character, recurring character, first interview, villain). I’m going to attach a PDF of questions that I use for my own interviews to the end of this post.
The third step is to have some beginning steps complete before interviewing your character. Well, what I mean is, ask the basic questions first. Name, age, height, etc. so you can form a clear picture in your mind and learn to hear their voice as they answer the deeper questions. If you hear them say something in a certain accent or way, try to write it down or note it so that you can remember it when you go to write your story later.
Your character’s voice will come out in the pauses and the way that they speak, the slang, the word and sentence choice and even the length of the answers. It may sound weird, and even downright odd to think of your character as speaking to you if you’re not used to is but, we are writers and weird is kinda what happens. That being said here’s a sample of a recent interview with the protagonist from my screenplay:
What’s your name? Riccardo Ciardino
How old are you? 30
What do you look like? I’m 6’ tall. I’ve got brown hair. Kinda skinny and I gotta wear glasses cause I can’t see for shit from far away. Blue eyes that everyone else says are striking whatever that means.
Where did you grow up? In Italy and Nebraska. Dad got stationed in Naples when he was in the Navy and I ended up living there for a few years so I got ta experience tha Italian culture for six years. It was even better than Nona’s cooking. I mean I knew we was Italian but living there, it really brought the culture to life.
What’s your favorite childhood memory? Family dinner on Sundays. Nonna used to make lasagna or gnocchi or something y’know? And everyone would be there. We’d be talkin bout what had happened that week or history, or living in Italy.
What do you do for a living? I’m a priest. Don’t know how that happened. I started out wanting to be a counselor but ended up in seminary an one thing led to another so here I am a full blown priest now.
What’s your least favorite thing about your job? I don’t know that I would say… One…. Probably taking confession. It’s a burden to hear these people’s confessions and I have to hear them and not tell a soul. I know so much about so many people, and I see them and know everything about their lives. I’m ah, just, so young, an, *sighs* it can be a lot to bear y’know.
What’s your favorite thing about your job? Being able to help people. When they come to the office for something and I can give advice or help em, especially the ones in college, cause I just graduated so I know how that can be.
Where do you live? Now, I was just transferred to a parish outside of San Francisco. It’s a big change. I mean from Italy to Nebraska to the big city. I live in uh the rectory of the church there, so a small apartment really.
What do you want? I want to help people, the troubled ones. Counsel people in the church. I mean, if I wasn’t a priest I’d like to have kids, but vow of chastity. It’s hard to uh stay like this as a young man.
So, as you can see, that is not what I sound like. I don’t know where it came from but, it seemed to fit for this character. He’s a priest, and in this screenplay, which is a horror one, he will be possessed. For this interview I’m just trying to get to know him and where he came from. He’s going to be the protagonist so it’s important to know who is and why he’s the main character, and not say, someone else, who’s witnessing this possession. This is not the entirety of the transcript for both the reason that it’s not entirely done and I don’t want to give away all the secrets of this character just yet.
In this interview, for example, I discovered that he’s overwhelmed by his duties as a priest and that, that is an interesting detail that I can use in this screenplay to motivate Riccardo. Especially in that he will end up possessed in this short script.
I’ll attach the PDF that I use for character interviews to this post. Just know that these are basic questions. For this specific interview I’m going to add questions like:
- Why did you choose to become a priest?
- Do you believe in possessions?
Hope this helps you in building your characters now and in the future.