#WritersResources: Interviewing your Characters

When David & I first wrote November Deadline, our bad guy Bunty was little more than a cipher. The idea of doing a chapter or two from his perspective was tossed back & forth, but with four main characters (as well as a couple of vocal minor ones) already telling the story, we decided to leave well alone during the Challenge itself.

Those particular time restrictions now behind us, we’re filling out the story, and there’s now room for Bunty to have a voice. I did the initial rough draft of those chapters in a telling rather than showing manner, but when I came to re-draft them, I realised with something akin to horror that, even though he’s my creation, I’d no clear idea who Bunty was. While existing chapters already deliver a comprehensive picture of his looks and his political views, that was it … for he was that stereotypical baddie – all darkness, with no depth or nuance.

As a first step, I went through the original manuscript, pulling out every reference to Bunty, to ensure I didn’t contradict what’s already there – at least, not without intent and in the full knowledge of what needed re-writing. In so doing, I came across an exchange of dialogue with Jack I’d totally forgotten about (probably because David wrote it), which helpfully answered a couple of questions I was asking myself about his manner of speech (whether it was old-style and formal, or if he used a more modern selection of vocabulary), but I knew I was still missing the essence of Bunty.

David recommended Mind Mapping, but while procrastinating, inspiration struck! Deep from the recesses of my mind, I dragged up a memory of the multitude of “interview your character” questionnaires I’d saved on Pinterest absolutely ages ago, for Pinterest is yet another of those places I stockpile potentially “useful stuff”, only to forget all about it …

Two immediately jumped out of the mass – the first being a blog post from the pen of the wonderful K M Welland, which contained questions from her book Outlining Your Novel. I’m ashamed to say this book not only sits on my shelf, but has been read from cover-to-cover – clearly the old synapses weren’t firing properly, for I did not recall the terrific resource I had right to hand. The second was another blog post, this time from the team at The Write Practice, and forms a set of questions attributed to Marcel Proust. If these two don’t float your boat, there are plenty more to be found here.

I sat at my keyboard with a fresh cup of tea to work my way through both questionnaires. Much to my surprise, I was able to answer each question quickly and with little thought – so it turns out Bunty wasn’t such an unknown character after all, I Just needed to dig him out of the deep recesses of my mind via some well-thought out questions.

Mind Mapping ended up being a bit messy and didn’t give me any particular insights, so I turned instead to a Word Cloud … and the result was delightfully unexpected. Just so you know, whenever I produce a word cloud for inspiration, I don’t apply any weighting to the words as I like to see what the fates may offer me in the form of insights. The only word in the list I entered with a capital letter was Nazi (yup, my inner grammar – ahem – Nazi was at work there), otherwise all were lower case and in the same font.

Please accept my apologies for the dreadful quality of the image which follows – it was a snapshot taken of my PC screen (for yes, I did have technical issues during lock-down, but am sure I wasn’t alone in that), and also for the horrendous typo – but, you see, I couldn’t not include the result …

IMG_1470-1

For yes, buried among the obviously unpleasant aspects of Bunty’s character, those questions I’d answered revealed he was an unloved child – lonely, needy and unhappy. And suddenly, Bunty wasn’t a cipher anymore. Yes he’s a bully, but being writers who study human behaviour, we know that particular path is filled with those who’ve followed it in order to divert attention away from their own perceived weaknesses.

Although I can now see the unhappy child behind the man, the following saying plays an even more significant part in my overall assessment of Bunty …

It is our choices that show us what we truly are ...

I still don’t like Bunty, even though I think his character is more rounded and has depth. All I need to do now is to re-write those chapters …


© Debra Carey, 2020

 

 

Author: debscarey

Tweets @debsdespatches My personal blog is Debs Despatches, where I ramble on a variety of topics, including #ISWG reflections; I write fiction on co-hosted site Fiction Can Be Fun and my Life Coaching business is Caring Coaching. I originally blogged at Bunny and the Bloke - now in mothballs.

5 thoughts on “#WritersResources: Interviewing your Characters”

  1. Very interesting post Debs, thank you! I am glad that Bunty has become a more fleshed-out figure though to be sure none of your characters are exactly cardboard cut-outs. So who gets to play him in the film of the book? In my mind’s eye he should be played by George Sanders (the modern equivalent obviously! 🙂 ) Orlando Bloom? (OK not quite an equivalent)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. George Sanders is an interesting shout – obviously not in his guise as the Saint! I did have a a vague thought of Hugh Bonneville. Cary Elwes might work too.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I also saw a reference to Timothy Dalton after I made that comment, but he might be a bit long in the tooth these days.

        Like

    2. Thanks Alan 🙂 George Sanders is indeed a good shout. I’ve been pondering this and wonder if Brian Gleeson might work – although any hint of an Irish accent would have to be suppressed.

      Like

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