Complex Fantasy Characterization – Who am I?

I mentioned a couple of days ago that I like to create characters from the inside out, and I steal shamelessly from astrology and numerology books for initial characterizations.  After I’ve developed a list of internal character traits for my new character, I go to the next level, the character interview.  A lot of books on writing talk about interviewing your character to help understand their motives.  Basically, you put yourself into the character’s shoes and let them run off at the mouth while you write it all down.  I poo-pooed that method when I first started writing, and ended up with flat characters that didn’t do anything. 
The great thing about the character interview, is that it takes you places that you hadn’t expected to go (thus pleasing the pantser part of my creative genius (see yesterday’s post for details)); at the same time, I make sure that the character interview covers a careful list of topics, thus pleasing the anal-retentive structured outline approach. 
I’ve found that the interview questions for each major (and most secondary) characters must include at least these few questions, after they tell me about their bio and childhood:
·         What is the main problem, conflict, goal, need, desire, yearning or other factor driving/propelling this character through this story?  What would this character be willing to give up everything for?   No need to limit yourself to just one thing, but more than two or three will complicate your story needlessly.  I usually choose two yearnings that are mutually exclusive.  For example, I may have my hero want to marry his true love, but he’s already married to someone else, so he has an equal desire to get rid of wifey-wife number one.   
·         I also make my character tell me their deepest secret, and what would happen to them if this secret came out.  It has to be unique, and specific.  Describe how this secret has molded this character’s actions in life.  Think Rumplstiltskins name.
·         I also make my character tell me about their gifts; those special skills and abilities they have that they’re proudest of. 
·         The interview should also cover how the character is going to meet the other characters and what this character wants or doesn’t want them to do in the story.  Hint:  it usually has something to do with interfering with this character’s yearnings. 
·         The interview should also disclose this character’s plans for what he or she will do when he or she is thwarted (bwahaha) by another character’s actions. 
·         Finally, what would this character NOT do to achieve his/her goal?  Where would this character draw the line?  You can’t cheat and say “anything”.  Would this character lie to get what he wants?  Cheat?  Steal?  Threaten?  Murder?  Give up his soul?  Since we’re talking fantasy, I’m sure you can imagine a lot of things even worse than that.  Hint:  This will become the horns of dilemma that this character will eventually have to face. 
The interview process is time consuming (and shouldn’t be rushed), but when you’re done, you really know that character, and you’ve done more than learn your character’s boundaries; you’ve figured out some of the critical turning points of your story.
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2 Responses to Complex Fantasy Characterization – Who am I?

  1. cncbooks says:

    You should put that interview away and then pull it out again after the character has experienced a few storylines/books. Ask the questions again and see how/if the answers have changed—you might be surprised ; )

  2. Don says:

    I found characters pretty easy…but maybe I just know enough wierdos, whackos, and wingnuts that sticking them into the book was simple.

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