Cross-Examining the Characters of Your Novel

Have you met your characters?

Of course, I haven’t. They are not real! Or they are dead. Or both.

Is that what you are thinking? Technically, you are right, but luckily it is not the end of your story.

Time to let your schizophrenic side(s) shine:

You can always set up an interview


This is an amazing creativity technique. I picked it up from James N. Frey’s wonderful guide How To Write A Damn Good Novel (which is once again highly recommended).

The general ideas of the interview are:

  • to draw up the characteristics, antics and parts of the biography of your novel’s characters,
  • to understand what a character is thinking, what motivates him/her, or how he/she feels about certain facts or people,
  • to find out what he/she would do in a certain situation or can contribute to a scene.

Interviewing your characters is part play-acting and part hard thinking. It is a lot of fun, too.

Here is an example

Halfway into the first chapter of my novel, I arranged an interview with Lady Armsworth.

Question: Lady Armsworth, thank you for taking the time this morning.

Answer: Yes. Well, I only have time for you until my milliner arrives and I can try my new hat. It’s about time since I need it for an alfresco breakfast. She had better give me a discount. After all it is I who brings her creations to the ton.

Q: Indeed. I was wondering: What do you think about Robert, his being alive and inheriting the title of your nephew?

A: That creature! He was always selfish and never did anyone a favour. Not being dead when expected to be is just like him!

Q: Your sister, Lady Linfield, is putting a lot of effort into arranging things for him. Do you support you sister?

A: Yes, of course, she has my full support. I mean, in those aspects where it might be needed. We should all share the financial support that is required for the benefit of the family. However, Alvara was the one to inherit Papa’s fortune.

Q: Your sister seems to take the lead here. Are you happy with her going ahead so determinedly?

A: Well, Alvara is sometimes a bit … masterful. It’s because she had to take over the management of her husband’s estate very early after they married. He was fond of his claret.

Q: So you would prefer to be more involved in making the decisions and setting things up?

A: No, no, not at all. Alvara is very accomplished in these things. If she takes care of the issues, everything will work out quite satisfactorily. And she does not take it well if one interferes with her plans.

You can continue this as long as you want and it is helpful, but let’s leave Lady Armsworth at this point.

What can we learn from this?

Lady Armsworth seems nice enough. She has access to the fine society. So if I need to have one of my other characters introduced to Almack’s, I may rely on her to provide the vouchers.

However, she is not overly energetic. It would probably take significant effort to make her act on her own, but she has clear opinions about certain things. As she tends to let her sister take care of problems, Lady Armsworth is not suited for the line of the main characters.

Her sister, Lady Linfield, is another matter. An interview with her would be most interesting, but I wonder if she would be very patient listening to our questions.

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