I got this tip a long time ago from an author buddy of mine: Chris Finch

When writing a fictional piece, interview your characters. I know it sounds silly, but would you write a non-fictional piece about someone or something without interviewing people? Well, come to think of it, maybe you would. However, it would be much more credible and interesting if you interviewed people.

In fiction, though, you simply must. If you don’t you will end up with one-dimensional characters.

“No,” you argue, “I know my characters because they’re based on people in my life!”

Fair enough. Have you interviewed those people, then? Particularly, have you interviewed them in the setting that you’ll be placing them?

Aunt Betty’s a great character in your life, sure. How is she on the planet Vlarn? Maybe people on Vlarn don’t like Aunt Betty’s brand of sense of humor. How does she handle that? If she just keeps being Aunt Betty, that’s cool, until she winds up dead. (Man, I hope your little planet of Vlarn is nicer than that!)

There’s another, more important reason to interview your characters: you are the actor. Eh? That’s right, Skipper. You see, when you write you have to constantly change perspectives from one character to the next. If you don’t then all your characters will act, sound, and respond identically. That’s unrealistic, boring, and one-dimensional. What do the best actors out there do when faced with a new role? Study. They study and then they become that which they are trying to portray. Same for your writing. You have to be the actor on all your characters.

Actually, you have to be the writer, the director, the producer, and the actors. You’re a one-person band!

Now how are you supposed to have realistic characters if all of them act like you do? You can’t. So, interview them, learn to be them, and then welcome yourself to the psychotic world of character-switching.

When you have your protagonist and antagonist facing off and you can feel the rage of the protagonist as her sword misses–YET AGAIN–and then you suddenly switch and can feel the elation of side-stepping yet another of her childish volleys… That’s when you know you’ve got characters.

So, how?

Simple. You’re you, the character is the character. You ask a question as you would, then you change into your character and answer as he would.

Wait, that’s simple? Well, okay, not really. Not at first anyway. But pretty soon you’ll get good at this. And then soon after that you’ll need therapy, all ten of you.

Here’s some questions to get you started with talking to yourself (erm):

  • What’s your profession?
  • What got you into that profession?
  • Who is your boss?
  • Do you like or dislike your boss?
  • Why?
  • What’s the one thing you’d really like to do once this story is over (assuming you survive, of course)?

…let your answers lead to new questions, too. Pretty soon you’ll be flying.

If you really want this to rock, then find a voice for your character, hook up your favorite little recording program on your computer or pick up a personal recorder at the shop, and literally act it all out. Listen back and see if getting into character by using the voice helps. It can be an awesome way to identify with your characters, too. You never have to replay these for anyone, of course, but hearing that “voice” in your head when you write the lines for that particular character will bring things to life!

As with everything in writing, practice, practice, practice. If you stick with it, you’ll  soon be able to switch from character to character so fast that you’ll be unstoppable (or within a padded cell).

 

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