Randy Ingermanson on Writing Deeper Characters

I’ve been a big fan of Randy Ingermanson’s Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine since first finding it years ago. The e-zine comes out once a month. Each issue has an article on organization, craft, and marketing and a few extras. No matter what you write or how you write it, you just cannot go wrong by subscribing to Randy’s E-zine.

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Randy’s article on craft in the November issue was all about developing deep characters.

Writers can never learn too much about character development and I read this article with just as much interest as any other writer might. I liked it so much, I want to share with you today, with Randy’s blessings.

Here’s Randy.

Writing Deeper Characters

Deep characters are not deep merely because there’s something magical about them that sets them apart from other characters.

Deep characters are deep because the author chose to go deep with them. The author could have chosen to go shallow, and the result would have been shallow characters.

Any character can be a deep character. Any character can be a shallow character.

It’s not about who your characters are, it’s about what you choose to do with them.

I’m convinced that a very powerful way to go deep with your characters is to interview them.

Set up the interview in Q and A format. Ask your character a question. Then get inside the character’s skin and answer the question—in that character’s voice.

This works for several reasons:

It Alternates Between Analysis and Creation

Asking questions gives you a chance to put on your analyst’s hat. You get to ask the hard questions about motivation and values. You can probe as much as you want into your character’s mind.

Answering those hard questions gives you a chance to put on your creative hat. You get to become the character, exactly as you would if you were writing a scene from that character’s point of view.

But in an interview, you don’t have to worry about action and description. You can focus on speech patterns, mental patterns, emotional patterns.

And you don’t have to worry about being “interesting” to the reader, because nobody will ever read your character interview. The interview is just for you to get to know your character.

It Gives You Practice Being Each Character

This is essential, because as you write each scene, you need to become the point-of-view character for the duration of that scene. You need to slip inside that character’s skin. You need to convince your reader that she is that character.

This is not easy. It’s a little easier in first-person than in third-person. And when you’re interviewing your character, you’re always answering the questions in first person. You’re speaking as that character. So this is your chance to practice. But this is not mere practice time. This is practice time that also teaches you new things about your character.

One of the hardest things to do in fiction is to develop unique voices for each character. It’s way too easy to have all your characters sound alike. The interview is an opportunity to develop all the little verbal tics for each character. You’ll learn which words they overuse. What grammatical liberties they take. How they think and how they express themselves.

It’s Not Your Fault

When you interview your character, you can let him go off on tangents and take all the wrong turns that are bound to happen as you learn who your characters are. After all, your characters are human, so they’re bound to make mistakes.

But it’s them making the mistakes, not you. So if they go off into left field, you can rein them in, delete all the dumb things they said, and start over. And it’s all their fault, not yours.

Yes, this is a psychological game you’re playing with yourself. No, there’s nothing wrong with this. Any time you can make it safe to take chances in your story development, that’s a good thing.

It’s Fun

Interviewing your character is incredibly fun. And incredibly powerful. If you’ve never tried it, you’re missing out on something amazing.

You can do this at any point in your story development. It’s especially helpful if you’re still planning the story, or if you’ve painted your story into a corner, or if you’re worried that your character’s motivations don’t make sense.

Try it now. Pick any one of your characters. Open a document and start asking questions. Ask one, then answer it right away. Then ask another, and answer it right away. Keep doing that until you’re done. You’ll know when you’re done. Your instincts are smart about being done.

If you don’t enjoy the process, then don’t do it again.

But I bet you will. I bet if you try this once, you’ll be hooked for life.

Conclusion

Randy’s right. I’ve been interviewing characters for some time and have learned a lot more about them with that method than any other. I still use other methods like character journals and putting characters into situations outside the story, but the interview is where I begin.

I confess that up to now, I’ve been interviewing primarily lead characters with an occasional secondary character or villain thrown in for good measure. But that’s about to change.

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Legal Stuff

This article is reprinted by permission of the author.

Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, “the Snowflake Guy,” publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 10,000 readers. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com.

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