You get to learn about the person you're writing about in a fun and unconventional way. You get to talk with the person and sometimes bits of plot that you're having trouble with will be resolved. Now, you don't have to include everything you learn from a character interview in the novel and the interview itself can have whatever question you like. Here is a list of 35 questions that seem to be the most commonly used:
- What is your idea of perfect happiness?
- What is your greatest fear?
- What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
- What is the trait you most deplore in others?
- Which living person do you most admire?
- What is your greatest extravagance?
- What is your current state of mind?
- What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
- On what occasion do you lie?
- What do you most dislike about your appearance?
- Which living person do you most despise?
- What is the quality you most like in a man?
- What is the quality you most like in a woman?
- Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
- What or who is the greatest love of your life?
- When and where were you happiest?
- Which talent would you most like to have?
- If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
- What do you consider your greatest achievement?
- If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?
- Where would you most like to live?
- What is your most treasured possession?
- What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
- What is your favorite occupation?
- What is your most marked characteristic?
- What do you most value in your friends?
- Who are your favorite writers?
- Who is your hero of fiction?
- Which historical figure do you most identify with?
- Who are your heroes in real life?
- What are your favorite names?
- What is it that you most dislike?
- What is your greatest regret?
- How would you like to die?
- What is your motto?
These are thanks to a friend of Marcel Proust's who asked him these questions to get to know him better. If you study them you'll find that they're actually really good for discovering the layers behind every character.
Have I used them in the past? Yep. I used question 1 to interview the two main characters in Burnt: The Story of the Fire King. Yes, I used one question. Why? Well, because asking that one question made my characters say things that allowed me to ask another question without having to go down the list.
That is the heart of every interview. You shouldn't need more than one or two questions in a personal interview because the questions you ask should give you a clue to other questions you could ask. Confused? Check out Darius' interview to see what I mean.
With ANY interview, no matter what the question always remember to follow up with: who, what, where, why, when, and how. So, for "What is your idea of perfect happiness?" you could ask "Why? How would you obtain it? What do you mean by that?" When I asked Darius I received: "When everyone I love is happy, including the people of Seiovania." I followed up with "You know not everyone can be happy, right?" The interview itself gives a huge insight to who Darius is as a self-sacrificing character. Read more here.
When I asked the same question to Rowan, his younger sibling I got: "Being me." It followed up with "What does that mean exactly?" We ended up talking about his responsibilities to the throne and love.
See where I'm going with this? One question, properly phrased, can bring up all sorts of questions if you listen to your interviewee's response properly.
So you don't need a list of 35 questions to ask every character. Pick your favorite one or two and go from there. If you really listen to what your character says, you should get a lot more out of one or two questions then 35 questions that may have a complex answer you don't notice.
Until next time: comments, questions, rage, rants and whatever else can be directed to the comments.