How Do You Get to Know those Characters You’ve Thought Up?

When I first started writing, back in the Dark Ages, I hunted up templates. They were difficult to find back in the pre-Medieval Age. Writer’s Digest magazine had one template in an issue, and I religiously used it.

Then, as life moved on, I left the template behind and tried other methods.

Psychology offered numerous methods for unlocking characters. One such method was running characters through the Myers-Briggs test. Keeping a character at the forefront while taking that test so that personal preferences don’t influence the answers is extremely difficult. That’s a great learning process for writers, getting our own minds and will and gut reactions out of the way to let the character speak.

The best method I found for discovering a character, however, wasn’t a template or the Myers-Briggs or any other test. Hands down, still to this day in a greatly adapted form, the best method for beginning to develop a character, was the 30-minute interview.

The rules are simple. 10 questions. 3 minutes per question. When you finish, pick up any idea that’s still percolating, and run with it as long as necessary.

Through the interview, you reach the heart and gut of your character more quickly than you will through any other method.

On the internet are several versions of character interviews, many of which mimic basic template questions. Those don’t delve deeply enough. Writers need to reach in and feel the heart pumping. We have to throw a punch and know how the character will take it.

You can have some basic information about your character before you start. Or you can just have the seed.

These questions will crack that seed. Growth of character and story will start. That’s impossible to start.

The ideas that bud may transform during the writing. Once in the air, the planted story will take on a life of its own. Much will affect it. Crawling insects. Nibbling mammals. Birds. Bats. The neighbor’s cat after the birds. Cold and heat, drought and deluge. Once you finish the story, you may look back at this interview and realize that you weeded out some stems that would have offered interesting subplots. Buds that you pruned to enable other flowers to flourish might have looked intriguing but offered too much distraction.

Sequels can take care of the lost subplots and intriguing flower buds that were never allowed to grow. They’re not lost. They’re over in the compost, nourishing your dirt-brain for later stories.

Because you will have later stories.

Each creative idea you develop nourishes that dirt-brain so that it can germinate more ideas for more stories.

Find the interview in the newly published Discovering Characters. Get it here