How to Do Character Interviews Pt 2

How to Do Character Interviews Pt 2

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.

characterinterview

~Jessica

Top 5 Tips for Writing LGBT Characters

Top 5 Tips for Writing LGBT Characters

In the modern world there is an entire subset of book and publications for the LGBT community. As the topic grows in the public eye, more and more books and other forms of media are featuring LGBT characters. In order to avoid stiff, stereotypical characters it is vital for writers to know what they are doing when it comes to these characters. Being an active member of this community, I have insight into writing better LGBT characters than those used as a simple stereotype.

1. Most LGBT people feel the need to hide their LGBT identity. At least from some facets of their lives. There is still a large stigma around being a member of LGBT community and it is for our own safety that we hide our identity.

2. Just because someone is a gay or lesbian character does not mean that they have to follow all of the stereotypes of being gay or lesbian. Not every gay man is flamboyant, not every lesbian woman dresses like a man, not every bisexual person is greedy and going to cheat on you. No gay man is always super fabulous, has a nice house and wants to be your gay bff all the time.

3. DO NOT KILL OFF A LESBIAN OR GAY CHARACTER ONCE THEY REALIZE THEY ARE GAY/LESBIAN/BISEXUAL/TRANSGENDER. This has become way too common of a trope on TV shows like The 100.  (Spoiler Alert for Season 3). Right after Clark and Lexa consummate their relationship, Lexa dies. This trope is not only tired and old but a complete insult to those in the LGBT community.

4. Diversity! Not every gay or lesbian charactacter has to be a white character. Intersectionality, or having a character be say gay and Hispanic can prove an excellent way to add depth to them. No two peoples sittuations are the same.

5. Being gay is not going to be the entirety  of this persons story unless it is a coming out story. That is a specific kind of narrative, similar to a coming of age story and follows a similar structure to those. If the story is not about that, being an LGBT character is a part of an interesting character, but not their entire personality. 
So, these are my top five tips for writing LGBT characters. Let me know what you think. 

-Jessica 

Setting: 3 Reasons All Stories Need Worldbulding

Setting: 3 Reasons All Stories Need Worldbulding

So, when you think of worldbuilding likely the first thing that comes to mind is a sci-fi or fantasy novel. While in those novels worldbuilding is an essential part of the story to create a suspension of disbelief, I believe that worldbuilding needs to be a part of every story.

  1. All Stories Have a Setting

In order to begin with the importance of worldbuilding, lets talk about something else: setting. You can’t have a story without a setting. Think about it. Would Harry Potter be the same if we knew nothing about Hogwarts? What about Silence of the Lambs? Without setting a story doesn’t seem real. We all take things in about our environment through every sense, whether we realize it or not. That said, in a story set in an actual location, worldbuilding can be as simple as looking up the weather, spying on Google Earth and putting a few pictures of your locations where you can see them while writing. The good part is, if you know the general physical characteristics of a place the inside of building, and small details like that will instantly be credible if you got the rest of the details right.

2. Every Setting is a Character

When crafting setting it is important to think about how your setting will influence your story. Trying to write a murderous story set in a bright, shining city, with no negative emotions or connotations expressed in the setting, the world will feel out of place in your story. While I’m not saying that you can’t set a murder in sunny California, you need to pay attention to how the setting is described, especially when there is a murderer lurking. Making sure that your setting tonally matches what you’re writing is a part of worldbuilding and important for all stories.

3. Knowing Your World

If you know your world, the setting of the story, it is easy to use it to trap your characters and to enhance their experience. Whether this means crafting an entirely new world, or simply looking at how setting your story in different places can change it, this is an important step in writing your stories. If, when working on setting you find that your current world is slightly wrong, you can fix it before you have a monster of a novel and have to work over every little thing to see what is not working then realize you need to change items in your setting. For example, in my current novel I’m writing it as set in Bozeman, Montana in the winter. Hunting for a serial killer is tough anyways, but when I add in the fact that there tends to be heavy snowfall, chilling temperatures, and the potential for my heroine to get caught in a snowstorm, that both ups the stakes and adds a unique element to my story.

Well, that’s about all I have for this topic at the moment. What are your opinions on worldbuilding and setting? Next week for Writing Wednesdays: 5 Tips on Writing LGBT Characters

Fandoms and FanFiction 

Fandoms and FanFiction 

Now, everyone out there has a television show that they love. One that they watch every week, and never miss. The same with popular books and series of books. For example, Harry Potter has one of the largest fandoms out there. What comes with fandoms is FanFiction.

FanFiction is when fans of a show, book, or movie write a story using either their own original characters or those in the story already. It is on of the highest forms of flattery in my opinion. What I want to talk about this Friday is why FanFiction is so stigmatized. There is an opinion out there by some that those who write FanFiction are somehow less than those who write original stories. I say however, that it is more complicated to write. You have to use the rules and characterizations already in use from the story and use them to make your own story.

I myself, have written a rather large number of FanFiction stories. Now, as of right now they are mostly unfinished due to a lack of ideas for their plot. It’s not that I have not wanted to finish them, just that I didn’t have the right idea. My goal is to finish these stories by the end of the year.

Now, why would I admit to having unfinished stories? Because I intend to finish them and also because FanFiction is what helped me to learn how to write compelling characters and how to use plot to help change characters. We all know that Monk wouldn’t go from being nearly agoraphobic, obsessive compulsive, and in love with his late wife, into a healthy relationship with his assistant. That’s where plot and character interact. And writing FanFiction has helped me to see how to make changes that are accepted, that one event doesn’t change a character from one end of a spectrum to another, but rather a series of events that change characters. Now, I want you to try it. Take your favorite character and write a story that changes them. Remember that big changes, sudden changes, those are about as unbelievable as Snape going from hating Harry to his adopted father overnight.

When I started reading fan fiction I thought that it would all be weird and badly written. It turns out that some of the most memorable and best written stories I’ve seen were from fan written stories. I have spent more time in the world of Harry Potter reading fanfiction then reading the actual books. Now, I’m planning on writing Fanfiction on Fridays, you know catchy name and all. I’ll be posting the chapters here and on my fanfiction.net account.

My first experience with fanfiction was to hear about it on the Mugglecast podcast and then to read some, and I’m sorry to the authors of these, bad fanfiction. Then I heard about My Immortal , and was hooked. It was the greatest story because it was so bad. I even wrote a few stories of my own. The first one I wrote was for the X-Files, my favorite TV show ever. Now I’ve written stories for Monk, X-Files, Law and Order SVU, CSI, and Harry Potter. My goal is to finish all of my stories by the end of the year. It helps me to have more than one project to work on, so when I have writers block I can keep writing, but something else so my mind can ruminate on the problem in the other story. Starting this week: I will work on my Harry Potter stories first. For some reason, those two stories seem to be the most popular of my works.

Character Building Pt. 2

Character Building Pt. 2

Hello,

Glad you all are here to read the second instalment in my character building series. In this post, I’ll explain how in addition to the interview, you can use little things to make your characters more rounded such as a flaw in their personality, their favorite song. 

First of all, especially for your protagonist and the supporting characters with larger parts you need to make a list of 10 things they would hate to have happen to them. If you’re stuck, if your story seems to be moving at a slow pace, change it up and stick your character into one of those situations. Using Clarice Starling as an example, one of the things she’s most afraid of is being taken off the case she working which happens to her in Silence of the Lambs. 

Second, when building your antagonist, you need to know all of this about them as well. It is also helpful to ask why. Why is he the antagonist? What made him this way? Chances are none of this will be written in your novel or story but it makes your character seem fuller, more realistic than a flat antagonist. Take Hannibal Lecter, his past was known to Harris by the time he wrote Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal and the small ways his background seeps into the stories makes Hannibal Lecter come alive.  Also, it helps if your antagonist is in some way a reflection of your protagonist. Look at the dichotomy in Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal and Clarice are both students of psychology but one took the lawful path and one the darker path. 

I know I seem to be talking about Hannibal Lecter and his series a lot in this post, and that is because I have found myself re-reading the series as I work on building my own characters. 

Third, doing research: is it really necessary when it comes to creating characters? My view is that yes, it is.  Say you’re a young college woman writing about an elementary school boy as your main protagonist. Do you remember what elementary school was like? Well I do, but I can tell you that it has changed so much from the 90s when I was there. What was the popular cartoon when I was a kid? I think it was Pokemon? But I don’t remember. Ask me what today’s kids want and I don’t know. This is even more important if you’re writing about something like the 1960s or the 1800s. There is so much that would go into creating an accurate character and especially if you are writing about a character of a different demographic or ethnic group. While all people have commonalities the way that a Hispanic household and a German household function are different. Adding little details can take your characters from great to realistic. 

Fourth, when creating a character it is important to consider their name and the rest of them. You would question how someone with the surname Garcia was from Germany right? Sometimes you can play with these things to defy your readers expectations, but if you don’t explain these things it could make it hard for your character to come across as believable. 

Finally, I find it helpful after interviewing my character, researching them, asking them what is their worst fear, etc. to cast someone in their role. It can help you to view a character so that you can describe them and add those little details that make a story rich and memorable. 

If you want to find out more about character building I’d suggest you read A Writers Guide to Characterization by Victorua Lynn Schmitt, Character, Emotion & Viewpoint by Nancy Kress. Both books are in my library of reference material and they help enormously. 

Well, that’s all I have for this week. Happy Writing! Don’t forget to comment and share if you find this helpful! 

Jessica 

Writing Wednesdays

Hello all, I’ve decided that every Wednesday I’ll be taking a break from writing my novel, and work on something for the blog part of my website. Today, I want to discuss character building.

One of the first things that I noticed when I started reading as a young girl was the colorful main characters in every book I read. From Hermione Granger in Harry Potter to Hannibal Lecter in Thomas Harris’ book series, the stories behind the characters drew me to their parts in the novels I read.

Let’s start with Hermione Granger: she is everything that I wanted to be as a young girl; an intelligent, driven women who uses her logic to help solve the big problems in the world. Then Hannibal Lecter, the charming suave cannibalistic serial killer who seduces an FBI agent away from her work at the Bureau and into his arms. Now, the two characters that I just named may not have been the main characters but their stories added layers of subplot and, in the case of the novel Hannibal the main plot of the story. Why am I talking about other writers fictional characters and not my own? Simple. It’s easier to define these characters as their stories are, at least at the moment finished. Mine however, are a work in progress.

Now, let’s look at how these characters were built, how they interact with their world and see how that can benefit the characters in our own story.

Hermione Granger is an eleven year old girl, new to both Hogwarts and the Wizarding world and eventually befriends our main protagonist, Harry. What does Hermione do in the stories? Well, she functions as Harry’s more logical mind, helping him to achieve things that would otherwise be a bit out of his range, either in the scope of his character or in the fact that Hermione acts as a sort of encyclopedia, helping Harry to decode the logic puzzle, the mystery of the Basilisk, rescue Sirius, learn spells for his time in the tournament, fight with him in the DA, and then in the sixth book; argue with Harry over his academics. She becomes even more essential in the seventh book, saving Harry from an attack by Voldemort’s snake. Now Hermione is indeed not the protagonist in the novels, but she is a character that everyone remembers. Now how can we use Hermione in our own work? For me, in the detective novel that I’m working on she manifests herself in the form of a mentor, someone with more experience working serial homicide than my main character. When I think of Hermione I think of a mentor, but a peer mentor, someone with whom my protagonist has a nearly equal relationship to and who can impart information I want my main character to know that he or she cannot necessarily find out in the story.

Now, as for Hannibal Lecter, he is a character in passing in both Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs but comes into his own in the novels Hannibal and Hannibal Rising. I found myself wondering about what he was like, what did Hannibal know that both Clarice and Will didn’t? He intrigued me as he intrigued the entire American public as a character and then as Anthony Hopkins portrayed him in the classic film. What role(s) does Hannibal serve both as a character and as a theme? Well, in the first two novels we see him in he is the anti-hero, the dark figure tempting both proteges of Jack Crawford. He functions as a bouncing board, a place for them to learn what they need to know and as a subplot to the main function: catching a killer. In the next two novels we get a much clearer picture of character. For my purposes Hannibal Rising serves much more of a purpose to discuss his character. That novel is entirely driven by the question: what makes Hannibal who he is?

We find the answer within the pages, the way his history is shown through tableau and scenes from his youth, it serves as a character study. Hannibal, we learn is a troubled child, forever traumatized by the knowledge that he participated in the eating of his sister and, it seems he is doomed to repeat the act of drawing people into the act of unconscious cannibalism and also a more human version of themselves. He acts on his desires, not fearing the repercussions from society. Now, while this is off the topic slightly, yes, the prequel to the series serves to demystify and deconstruct the character that has been one of the most feared villains of our time, it also shows how backstory, whether known or unknown to the reader layers the characters writers create with mystery and helps, in the case of very character driven narratives, to help readers question themselves and make a lasting impression on those who read the work.

I’ve found that asking myself simple questions about each character helps me to build a profile of them so I know what they want, and how they go about achieving their goal. In my head, when I find out these answers I see myself as interviewing a character, and watching their body language as well as what and how they respond to my questions.

  1. What trait does this character value above all else?
  2. What is the character’s worst memory?
  3. What is their happiest memory?
  4. How did they grow up? (Was it happy, sad, lonely?)
  5. What motivates the character to get up in the morning?
  6. What do they look like? (An obvious question, I know, but I mean deeper than just looks. What expression do they make when they’re sad, happy angry?)
  7. What is their favorite curse word? Why?
  8. Are they very physical? (i.e. do they gesture when talking, do they tend to hug people when they meet them?)
  9. What did they want to be when they grew up? (Did they achieve that goal, why or why not?)
  10. What is their greatest achievement?
  11. What is their most embarrassing moment? Why?
  12. What book do they read before bed, if any?
  13. What is their favorite food?
  14. How is their room/home decorated?
  15. If they could visit any place in the world on vacation, where and why?

 

These fifteen questions help me to get a deeper understanding of my characters and what makes them tick. I find that even just knowing the answers to this helps it bleed into my writing in subtle ways, like the gestures they make while speaking, the way the interact with colleagues and others and the background of a scene.

Well that’s all I have today for the blog as I have to go meet with my professor about my applications to MFA programs. Happy writing and good luck with your own adventures on the page.

 

Jessica