Nice to Meet You
I mentioned a couple weeks ago that one way I get to know characters is through interviews. This is a technique I learned in one of my writing classes and it's one of my favorites.
I interview all my main characters. This is a concept that sounds super weird to anyone who doesn't write, but bear with me. Basically, you sit down and imagine yourself sitting with your character. Then, you start asking questions and letting them answer. Type what they say.
Some people like to do this by writing a scene in which they meet their character in a coffee shop or other public place, others stick to the dialogue, but keep it going on both sides like a conversation. I prefer to have a list of questions that I let my characters answer. Sometimes I interject, but I try not to.
The key is not to think too hard. It's kinda like when you text your mom or your best friend and know exactly what they'll say before they respond. Or how you can have a conversation with them in your head, because you know them so well.
Interviewing characters separates yourself from them. It doesn't allow you to put your own personality in a character, because they're sitting next to you, talking to you. I've attached my template of questions to the bottom of the resources page. Many are taken from Spilling Ink (by Anne Mazer and Ellen Potter), and the rest I accumulated from classes, but I've tweaked them to fit my needs and genre. Feel free to do the same.
Interviewing characters feels weird at first, but it's enormously helpful once you get into it. I tend to learn more by how characters answer than what they answer.
For example, Juliet, who I mentioned a few weeks ago, went on for several paragraphs any time I brought up her family. She really loves her family. Another character refused to answer six of my questions. I had to interject often to keep Olivia on topic, but her brother was straightforward in all his answers.
I learned more than their favorite animals, greatest achievements, and how they'd describe their moms. I learned their mannerisms, their speech patterns, and what topics they avoid or keep coming back to.
Sometimes, I do additional interviews if I need specific information from a particular character. I talked to Juliet about her backstory, because she was the only character who knew the details of a timeline I was unsure of. I also interviewed a character's mom about her marriage, because I needed information her kids couldn't give me.
Much of the content in those interviews will never make it into the story, and that's okay. It helped me get to know them and gave them a deeper level of realism. And, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, realism is what keeps readers reading.
Have you interviewed a character? What did you learn about them?