Having trouble creating well-rounded characters in your stories for children? Then try this tip from writer Lisa Harkrader who learned it a few years ago in a workshop she took from writer Sandy Asher (thank goodness writers love to share). Lisa says if she had to pick one single thing that has improved her writing the most, this would be it – the character interview.
There’s nothing mysterious about the character interview. It’s simply a list of questions to ask your main character before you start writing. You ask a question, then your main character answers (Yes, you should start hearing voices when you do this, but if you’re a writer you probably already hear them anyway, so relax).
Lisa says, “My characters tend to be long-winded and usually tell me a bunch of stuff I never dreamed of before I started interviewing them. I don’t use all that information in the story, but it gives me a very good understanding of the character and the character’s voice, so I know what that character sounds like when he or she speaks. It almost always gives me a better understanding of the plot, and sometimes leads me to better endings or a different shading of certain events. Occasionally, especially when I’m writing in first person, I lift sentences or paragraphs right from the interview. Another thing interviews help me with is deciding when to use first or third person. If a character’s voice is strong and fresh enough to carry an entire story, I feel comfortable using first person. If a character is more of a do-er than a talker, third person works better.”
Lisa conducted character interviews when she was working on her latest middle grade novel, AIRBALL: MY LIFE IN BRIEFS, which was recently released (September 2005) from Roaring Brook Press. The interview questions Lisa uses have evolved over the years. This is the list she asks her characters now:
1. Describe yourself–what is your best quality? What is your worst?
2. Describe your family.
3. Who is your best friend? Why?
4. What did you ask for on your last birthday? What did you get?
5. What is the one thing you wish other people knew about you?
6. What is your biggest secret–the one thing you don’t want ANYBODY to know?
7. What are you most afraid of?
8. What do you want more than anything?
Remember, you don’t have to stick to these particular questions or use ONLY these questions. As you get used to conducting character interviews you’ll probably develop your own questions that let you get to know and understand your characters, so they really come alive in your stories for children.