5.2 Interviewing

One of the most striking aspects about prose fiction is that it allows individual characters to be explored in exceptional detail. Readers are often given the chance to join in on the manner in which characters think about their present state of affairs, reflect upon their pasts, or decide about their futures. In a manner of speaking, we come to know them inside and out. For this reason, creating interesting and believable characters is very important to authors.

Many writers disagree about the sources of characterisation. Does character arise from the idea for a story, or does the story grow from reflections upon a character or characters? Either way, most would agree that it is very important to know your characters as fully as you can. One of the ways to do this is to reflect on the fact that, however comprehensive a story may be, it never tells more than a part of any character’s life. That is, we get to know them as they live amidst the circumstances of their story. In order to conceptualise all the influences that might be present on that character’s life inside the story, however, it is also helpful to imagine what influences have been derived from circumstances outside the story. In other words, although we might meet a character as an adult, it is possible that some of the factors shaping that character’s personality may be presumed to have occurred in the character’s childhood. Similarly, there may be aspects of a character that are hinted at, but not fully developed, which might become more manifest if we saw that same character in the future – in a sense ‘beyond the last page’. Knowing your characters’ pasts and futures can give you some insights into how to write about their presents – or rather, the lives they are leading during the time your story covers.

Activity: More personal

In order to understand the kind of things that impact on a character’s life, even ‘outside’ the story itself, we are going to look at how people characterise themselves. If you could tell the ‘story of yourself’ to strangers, what would you say? All of us, in a way, do this in our daily lives – being business-like in some circumstances, casual in others – and a person’s approach to this can reveal a lot about how they view themselves, their cultures and the world around them. One of the most easily accessible sources of ‘stories’ like this is the so-called ‘personal ads’ in the newspapers. In these short listings, people are given scope to describe themselves in a manner that they believe will make them interesting and attractive to others. What they say about themselves can be very interesting.

For this exercise, look at the selection of ads below and choose three entries that particularly intrigue you – that you think show good potential for future development as ‘characters’. Most people, with some crafting, can make good characters. (Note: It may be helpful to choose three very different ‘types’ of people. You might like to print the text of the entry in order to refer to it as you’re working.)

Personal ads
Have a seat! Comfortable? Good, let me introduce myself to you then... I love this city despite all it's faults. I have a job that is great (more about that if I get to know you ....) but I work to live. I've organised 2 huge charity galas (not my job btw) in the last four years. The buzz from organsing an event and raising stacks of cash is huge and I would like to do something like that again soon. I love the memories music evokes, probably as much as music itself (singing Yellow with my best friend as we headed for a night out, first listening to Jeff Buckley on a rainy day, dancing to Rodgab round my living room).... but wouldn't call myself a musical expert or obsessive. Am undecided on the chocolate v cheese debate - needless to say enjoy cooking with and eating both. Favourite authors include Murakami, Wodehouse, Solzhenitsyn and err ... JK Rowling (!). Have a soft spot for Tuscany and have spent many great holidays there with friends. Stretching my mind, nature and the outdoors, wearing hats, a good coffee in the morning, French cinema, travelling, Dragon's Den, the satisfaction of completing a run - make me smile on the inside. Dinner parties with friends and spending time with people I'm close to - make me happy too. I find that the best times always seem to happen when I'm least expecting them ... wonder if that will be the case here ....?
So I have been single for a few years having been in long relationships mostly. I have had time to find out more about myself on my own adventures. Now I am interested to find a like minded mate/friend to share with. I am into art, environment, meditation and the exploration of life. I've been working in film the last few years and am now making a step towards becoming my own creator. So ideas and brainstorming are part of my every day. I love to dance too. I used to work as a dancer and it's a passion of mine to express music through singing and the body. I am a real joke cracker too... I like a mature, self assured but fun free spirited guys. All the rest is chemistry.
First time ever on anything like this so will try and keep it brief. I love to travel even for a coffee, glass of wine or a meal! I have worked in the Emergency services for nearly 20yrs now and more recently have started to explore my less pragmatic and practical side, seeking to follow my left handedness into the arts. so am currently tied up with my own creative expression, well not that tied up or I wouldn't be on here! This involves studying for my MA and attempting to establish myself as a Photographic Artist, images on request...! My mind also seems to drive my persona, seeking to find fun and laughter in most things, a born optimist with a darkish sense of! Hope this is OK for a start, any questions welcome, however!
Describing oneself I've decided is not easy - you're either too modest or dangerously close to being narcissistic! Anyway, here goes - I wouldn't necessarily describe myself as average - I like training & getting out and about with active stuff. However, I also actually enjoy shopping! (Worryingly, I have a rather too large shoe collection, I fear!). Films, theatre and eating out are all high on my preferred list of an evening. I like to look after myself, and my stuff (Ok, so my soon -to-be sister-in-law thinks I'm slightly OCD, but I just call it tidy!) I like the idea of living life, not taking yourself too seriously and being able to laugh at yourseelf. And I also like bikes - fast ones.
So why should people get to know me? Well, my strongest traits are that I'm easy going, kind, honest, patient, generous, thoughtful and reliable. However, that doesn't make me sound very exciting at all! So I should add that I'm told that I have a great sense of humour and the most important thing in life is to have fun and enjoy it! I like to live life to the full and I fill it with as much as possible. So I enjoy spending my time in many different ways:- socialising with friends and family, playing tennis, live music events, theatre, holidays, live sport, cinema, travel, good food and wine, karaoke, fancy dress, music festivals etc etc..... Basically I don't like missing out on things so generally accept most invitations!
I am a warm sensitive person with no hang-ups. Life is a wonderful journey of discovery. Yes it has some great highs and lows, but its always best when shared with a loving partner. I have many interests, except sport but the greatest thing for me is a kind heart and a sense of humour and optimism. Food - yes I love fine food and dining out, cooking -I can but prefer to be taken out so I can enjoy your sparkling wit and diverse conversation. Travel - far flung places or Europe, a suprise weekend away, in style of course, back packing and working my passage have long gone by. I could go on...but in the end its chemistry that will decide for us...
I love to seek out fun and adventure, even if that means only a far-flung corner of darkest London. I am an eternal optimist, with a playful sense of humour and most importantly I don't take myself too seriously. I am affectionate and confident which means I alway speak my mind. I love travelling/living in new places and being active whether that means going running, dance class, cooking for friends or exploring. Don't worry though- I have all the time in the world for the right person.
I have a very busy lifestyle, which often makes it difficult to meet people outside work. When I get time off, my ideal way of resting is some kind of meaningful activity, like going to the theatres and the opera, museums and exhibitions, or a good restaurant. If I was given a choice of going to a pub or being outdoors, I would certainly prefer the latter. I am not a fan of mindless staring at the TV, and, given the choice, would much rather listen to Radio 4. With other people (not least because it is a part of my job) I try to behave in a way that is best reflected in this quote: "Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle".

When you have chosen three, select the one you want to work with first, and proceed to the steps below. (Note: Keep the other two entries, as you will need them for other exercises.)

Here is the next part of the exercise:

Next part

Imagine that the person you have selected is seated in front of you right now. You are going to interview that person, asking the questions listed below. For each question, write the response you think your ‘character’ would be likely to give, being careful to use that character’s manner of speaking. You may write between one and forty words per question.

  • How would you describe the place where you grew up?
  • What is the best thing that has ever happened to you?
  • What is your biggest fear?
  • Who do you admire most, and why?
  • If you had the chance to do one thing in your life all over again, what thing would it be?

When you have completed your character’s responses, post them on the Interviewing forum, where you can discuss your character alongside those created by the rest of the group.