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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Introducing Your Characters

When I interview a subject for writing an article, I prepare by writing a list of questions. I realize that I don't always come off as the sharpest knife in the drawer when I'm in the midst of interviewing. Why? Because I sometimes make the interview subject explain a basic concept to me. In fact, earlier this week, I had someone explain something I sat through a workshop about.
When the interviewee repeated himself, he spoke in a different manner. In a conversation and not a lecture mode, he presented the information differently to me. And it was in a mode more easily conveyed to my reader than his lecture.
I may already know a fact or concept, but I can't assume that all of my readers do. My interviewees can often convey that information best.
Fiction can work in the same way.
Think about what you know about your characters and how long they have been living in your head, in your notebooks and on your computer screen. You may know so much about them that you know how they would react to an event that never even appears in your work. (Or how the characters did react to an event that was then edited out.) Your characters may be second nature to you. But don't assume that your readers know everything about your characters. And who is the best person to convey information about the character?
How do you make sure your reader can keep pace with your characters and who they are? One basic technique is to interview your characters. Ask them some of the simple questions you may already know, but maybe no else one does. Take notes about their responses. Practice writing the responses in the tone and voice of the character.
Think about how your character sounds giving a lecture versus having a conversation with a friend. What about meeting someone new at a cocktail party versus a favorite lunch place? What questions are asked? What do you want to know about that character? What words would he/she use that differ from another character?
Get back to learning the basics about your characters so you can do a good job of introducing them to your readers. Remember that we (generally) don't learn everything about a person during that first "interview." The information is teased out while a friendly connection is strengthened. But remember that you don't need to be the sharpest knife in the drawer to learn more about someone. Just curious and full of questions.

Elizabeth King Humphrey (Twitter-handle @Eliz_Humphrey), is a writer and creativity coach spending way too much of her time asking questions.


  1. Very helpful for my memoirs too

  2. Yes! I love it for memoir writing as well! Thanks, Connie, for the reminder.


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