Creating full-bodied characters — that’s surely a major goal for those of us who are writing fiction. Any strategy we can use to give our imaginary beings flesh and bone, heart and soul, is worth exploring. That’s why it was so helpful to hear former reporter and Write Group member Josie Zeman share some of her journalistic interviewing techniques. Her goal? To help fiction writers create rich, full characters that readers believe in and want to know more about.
According to Josie, the best interviewing tool is the ability to listen. With this in mind, why not arrange an “interview” with each of your main characters? A few ground rules Josie suggests: 1) Avoid questions that can be answered with a “yes” or “no” in favor of open-ended questions. Example, “What was it like in your childhood neighborhood?” 2) Don’t worry is you veer off track — your character may have something valuable to tell you. 3) Even if you don’t include all the information you gather in your actual story, the greater awareness of your characters’ fullness you gain will come through in your writing and help engage your reader. A few of Josie’s interview themes you might explore:
•What is your character’s family background? Ask your character to “show” you some family photos, mementoes, heirlooms, old jewelry/clothing.
•Who does your character live with? (Pets/people). Work with? Who are his/her friends? Old-time connections or casual acquaintances?
•Ask your character about places he/she has been, or would like to see in person.
•Has faith played any role in the development of your character? What faith system did he/she grow up in? Are they still part of it or have they found something better? Or moved away from religion?
•What is your character hiding and why? Was he/she present at a special moment in history? What effect did it have?
•What was the most important challenge your character overcame?
Who knows where asking these questions may lead! Thanks, Josie. Write on!