The Science of Interesting Characters

Or why I interview my characters as part of the planning process.

One day I was trying to figure out what made some of my characters more interesting than others. To help me figure out how the character’s ticked, I embarked on a snowball experiment. It’s not as fancy as it sounds. I literally threw snowballs at some of my characters. Here’s what transpired…

Reagan: Started a full-fledged snowball war, complete with side-splitting laughter on both sides.
Adria: Laughed at the notion that anyone would have the guts to throw a snowball at her.
Felix: Laughed when it hit him, assuming it was some child who threw it at him.
Demarco: Pointed his scary sword at me and pretended to threaten me with it.

Riley: Glowered, looked around, and stomped off, assuming whoever threw it was picking on her.
Sebastian: Didn’t even notice as it hit his coattails, melted, and dried so quickly it was like it was never there. Then he looked up, genuinely confused as to why I was staring at him.
Ursula: Caught it, bit into it like an apple, and dared me to throw another one.

Saira: Frowned deeply and buried her nose deeper into her psychology notes.

Beta: Got so excited because she’s never seen white snow. 
Petra: Gave me props for hitting her and one-upped me by sending one back with an electric current inside that shocked me when it hit me and then she laughed maniacally.

Caroline: Freaked out, ran back inside her house, and locked the door.

Everyone’s reactions made perfect sense to me. I didn’t have to think about what they’d do. I hit them and they reacted. But as you can see, some of them are clearly more interesting (and fun) than others.

What makes characters interesting is what makes people interesting. They have a personality, a point of view, a chip on their shoulder, something they’re passionate about, a mysterious past…they make you feel something. They make you laugh. They make you angry. They illicit some kind of response.

I get a lot of compliments on the villains in my stories. (takes bow) There’s a reason for that though. It’s not because I’m some super fabulous writer. (Though I am, Lol!) It’s because those characters rock my world. And the excitement I have for them translates to the page. That tall, dark, & sexy vampire in the corner….the one I love SO much. The second he steps into the page, he’s dripping with awesomeness. (Though he laughs at my use of the word awesome.) The words I choose to describe him, the words that come out of his mouth – it’s all him from the tip of his golden hair to his charming and arrogant core. He’s awesome and interesting to the reader because he’s awesome and interesting to me.

If you feel like your MC is being overshadowed, guess what? They are. 
If you’re MC is getting on YOUR nerves, they’ll get on someone else’s.
If you feel like your MC has no fire inside of them, they’re not going to magically get fire when you start writing about them.
Likewise, if you’re crazy about your hero, someone else will be, too. 

If that dirt-smudged guy in the ice cream truck creeps you out, he’ll creep out someone else.
And if you cry bitter tears when Grandma dies, someone else may cry, as well. (Oh, I hope!) Lol!

This is why I interview my characters. If I’m going to portray accurately, I need to know how they think. They’re not always chatty, sometimes we just do bios. (Sometimes I throw stuff at them, especially when they won’t talk.) But I do this because I refuse to start a story until I can see the main cast clearly in my head. I want to see the fire in their eyes when I say their names. When I move on without this clarity, I always, always regret it. I like it when they get chatty, though I do have to cut them off sometimes. I try to keep my bios and interviews to a page and half max. If I need a refresher, I don’t want to have to reread five pages for each character, you know. 

And interviewing them is fun! I had this woman immediately start defending her actions before I even said anything. I found her guilty conscience fascinating, and I was really able to highlight that in her part of the story. I did not throw a snowball at her. She lives in the desert, it might have caused a severe anxiety attack. 
On a random note: I also keep a list of character descriptions in my composition book and on he computer for quick reference. I have the rather bad habit of forgetting what color people’s eyes are sometimes.

12 Responses to The Science of Interesting Characters

  1. It's easy to completely fall in love with your own characters and think they can do no wrong in the audience's eyes…but yeah, deep down, I think we know whether or not we're writing someone who's really going to connect with the readers. (And if we're, not, that can be tricky to change….)I hear you on keeping track of the details. I started doing that too, and went back to those files ALL THE TIME for things like "which leg was his scar on, right or left?" and such.

  2. I have short bios on my major characters–everyone else gets developed or shows up out of nowhere when I write the first draft. I have this minor character in my WIP. She's a widow on the prowl. I don't trust her and I wasn't sure about her storyline (she has an affair with my MC). My beta read it and found her story distracting. She didn't like the character much. The widow is an interesting character, but maybe not for this book.

  3. Having a good character in the wrong story has happened to me more times than I would like. Grr. I hate cutting people though, so I try to get a second opinion about their fate, if I can.

  4. Excellent post. When I first started writing, I decided I needed to completely know my characters so they feel real….all the way down to their favorite food and color. All that info will never appear in the story, but I know. And I keep a coupon organizer with notes. My favorite thing to forget is names and hair color. Ugh.

  5. Love this post! I interview my characters in my head (and my latest novel has a Reagan! — but I also have a daughter, Reagan). More accurately, I talk to them in my head a lot. Wait, too much sharing. ;-)Thanks so much for stopping by my blog today and commenting on Blare's short stories. Seems like I've found a new blog to follow today.

  6. Thanks! Glad you stopped by. :)I forget hair color quite a bit as well. It doesn't help that it's a feature I have a hard time settling on because I don't want everyone in the story to have the same hair color. Lol!

  7. Hey! Thanks for dropping by! I saw that you had a Reagan! 🙂 I talk to my characters, too. If I feel stuck on a scene, I'll ask them what's next or what they want to do. I trust them. Lol!

  8. Interviewing characters is such a good idea and you've hit all the major points. And I like your method of keeping character descriptions in a composition book. I totally need to do this! As more and more characters are developed, it becomes easier to forget the little details. (:

  9. It helps a lot. And when you're in the middle of a scene, it's so nice to have a quick reference, too. I used to bounce around the document a lot…and then I'd end up editing some. Lol!

Hi! ^_^