Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Interview with my Main character

I'm taking Holly Lisle's 'Create a Character Clinic". One technique she uses in getting to know your character is to interview them. After I had created my Main Character and given him a background, I was wondering if I'd picked one who was going to be too difficult. He's a shy 13 year old boy and I had to have a serious talk with him if he was going to be my MC.

“You’ll have to let me get to know you if I’m going to write a story about you.”

”I know.”

He stands quietly in front of me about 10’ away. I can’t tell what he looks like yet. He appears smudged, like a person on TV when they don't want to be identified. I am peeling garlic for tonight’s soup. Multi-tasking.

Now what? It’s so awkward when you get two shy people together.

“Can I call you Maxx? That’s the most recent name I picked out.”

“But it’s not my name.”

“O.K.” I was at tad bit disappointed. I liked that name. “You want to tell me your name?”

He bit his lower lip. He hasn’t look at me yet. We've moved into the living room where we can sit. I’m waiting, pen poised in my hand. I’m going to have to be patient. Why did I pick such an unassuming character? Is he going to cooperate? I know more than he does about his future, and he has an interesting story, but he's not making it easy.

“O.K. You can tell me later,” I suggest. I’ll try another route. Something simple. “How old are you?”

“Thirteen. And a half.”

I remember when those half-years carried such weight. That age when one is still charging full speed ahead towards adulthood.

“Have you thought about what you want to be when you grow up?” I could kick myself for asking such an ‘adult-type’ question.

“Be? I just want to be me. Only bigger. And smarter.”

It was a better answer than the question deserved and I was intrigued.

“Do you think you are smart now?”

“No. Yes. I don’t know, maybe.”

“Why wouldn’t you think you are smart?”

“I don’t feel smart.”


“What do you mean?”

“When don’t you feel smart? Or where?” I take a wild guess. “At school?”

“Yeah, mostly.”

“What are your grades like?”

“B’s. Some A’s.”

“Really? That seems pretty smart.”

“He gives me a look like ‘the grades don’t really mean much if you still feel ‘dumb’ look.

“What about at home? Do you feel smart there?”


Unequivocally ‘no’. I was clearly treading on sensitive ground. I took a step forward to see how far I could go. "Can you tell me a little about your family?"

“What do you want to know?” He seemed like he was squirming inside his skin and I could see him chewing on his lip. Oh God, help me understand this kid without scaring him half to death.

He shot me a look I couldn’t interpret and he is saved by the ringing of the phone. When I return he is fiddling with his cell phone.

“Sorry about that. Where were we?” I see his hands manipulating the buttons on his phone. They struck me as being extremely clean and I found myself oddly wondering if other 13 year old boys had such clean hands. His fingers were long and thin, but not delicate.

“Oh yes.” I was answering my own question, wondering if I’d lost him. “I was asking you about your family.
He closed his phone and slipped it in his pocket. He seemed to be thinking about how to answer this, even more than the other questions. “I have a mother,” he said with a slight edge of defensiveness. His answer was filled with worlds of unspoken heartbreak.

I took a deep breath. “You live with her?”

“Of course.”

“Can I ask where your father is?” I don’t make any assumptions in our ‘broken-family’ society.

“Don’t know. He died. I mean, he left when I was little. I don’t remember him much.”

I don’t know if his slip and instant correction showed a slight edge towards wanting to tell the truth, or just opening up.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” I said. I really meant it, but it sounded like such a canned, insincere response.

The kid looked hard at me, evaluating whether I was sincere or not. Now who was interviewing who, I wondered.

“Do you have any brothers or sisters?”


“How does that feel? I mean, do you think you’d like to have a brother or sister?”

“Sure.” There was the slightest hint of a spark in him.

I decided it was time to open myself up now, rather than just prying into his life like a school counselor or CPS worker. “I always wanted a big family,” I told him. “I have a sister and that’s pretty cool, but I think big families look like a lot of fun. Messy, but fun.”

His face is coming into a little more into focus. He’s wearing glasses and his eyes popped open in a funny way that changed the configuration of his whole face. He pushed his glasses, too big, back up on his nose. There was something charmingly innocent about this boy. Refreshing.

“Let’s play a game,” I said impulsively. I already knew that this kid’s reality was troublesome to say the least. After all, I made him up. Maybe I could get to know him by entering his fantasy world. His face transformed into a big funny question mark.

I said, “Let’s pretend we could pick our ideal family.”

“Yeah?” It was like I had opened a door that he’d been standing outside of and I just gave him permission to go through.

“Sure. You want to go first?”

“Hmm. No, you go.” Hesitant, but clearly looking forward the game.

“O.K. Let’s see. I’d definitely have a brother. An older brother who would tease me terribly, but who would defend me from anyone who might want to hurt me.”

The kid’s face relaxed and changed again.

“I like that. I think I’d have a brother too, but he’d be a twin. I would always have someone to hang out with.” There was a definite twinkle in his eye.

"You’d always have someone to blame for the broken window too,” I teased. He got my joke right away.

“Course it works both ways, but twins do seem to have a lot of fun. Playing pranks and stuff," I said.

“What about sisters?” He’s asking me questions now. This is turning out better than I anticipated. “Do you want more sisters?”

“Well, I have an older sister, but I think I’d like two younger ones. And a baby brother. A chubby little boy who everyone would spoil, but he’d still be loveable.”

We’re interrupted by the phone again and I have to finish making the soup. When I return to the living room, he’s gone. I think I’ll be able to coax him back again pretty easily though and I'm encouraged, but I’ll have to keep our sessions short.

Passing the table where I keep my hodgepodge collection of rocks, I notice they have been neatly arranged and grouped by their basic compositions. Pretty interesting way of communicating.

Maybe next time I'll learn his name.


  1. I know another writer friend who interviews her characters before writing. I tried it once and fell flat on my face. It was so mundane. Question. Answer. Ugh.

    But you did it spledidly. I was right there in the room with you and learned so much from his mannerisms. Thanks to you, I'll have to rethink the interview thing.

  2. Hi Cat! Thanks for stopping by. Give the interview another try sometime. It was pretty fun but I think my husband is a little worried about my conversations with invisible people. :)

    Anyone else use this technique? Does it work (or not) with you? I don't know how well it will work with my antagonist. She's not someone I want to get close to so that might be too creepy.

  3. LOL! My DH and DD got a little freaked out during NaNo. They thought I was possessed when they walked in on my sobbing, fingers tapping furiously on the key board.

    Hey, we're writers!

  4. Hello Rahma,
    I found this interesting! I like the part where you say I still like my story.
    have a wonderful day today! I love the new set up you have(The books on the sides). It is always nice to see your work.
    sytiva sheehan

  5. Greetings Sytiva: Thanks for stopping by. I found this interview technique so fascinating. I can't wait to try it again.

    I saw some of your new art up on your blog. Love your work!

  6. Great post Rahma....It has given me food for thought....I might have to interview my characters now....I already write a journal in character mode but I like the idea of interviewing them...
    Your interview really brought your MC to life.....could just picture the awkward boy you are talking to...

  7. Kim: Thanks for stopping by. A journal is an interesting way to get to know your character too. I know another author who uses this format and she publishes journal updates on a its own blog and Twitter account. Pretty clever.

    What genre do you write in?


I loved to hear what you have to say!