Getting into Character: An Interview with my Hubby

Right now I’m reading two writing books. Goal, Motivation, and Conflict by Debra Dixon (which I’ll blog about later), and Getting into Character by Brandilyn Collins.

I just finished reading Chapter One: Personalizing in Getting into Character. The method of personalizing goes something like this:

You start by interviewing your character. For example, my character is an architect. So I might ask, “Bethany, why did you decide to be an architect?” I stick with this line of questioning until I hit rock bottom – which leads me to a “So what?” moment. This so-what moment leads to an inner value, which gives rise to a trait, which gives rise to a set of mannerisms. Brandilyn Collins says that many times, writers take a character, pull a few mannerisms from a hat, and slap them on the character in hopes of making him/her identifiable. But really, as she so appropriately puts it, we’re just dressing a mannequin. We want our character’s mannerisms to be a window into something deeper. We want to build our characters from the inside out. It just makes sense, doesn’t it?

To give the process a whirl, I decided to interview my husband. Meet Ryan, my hubby (in the picture above). He was a very cooperative participant. I started with a basic question: Why do you deliver beer for a living? I kept asking more questions based on his responses until I got to some inner values. It was a very enlightening process for both of us. Here’s what we discovered:

Some of Ryan’s inner values:

– He wants to be the best at what he does
– He expects the best from the people around him
– He treats people the way he wants to be treated
– He loves to not just overcome a challenge, but to blow it out of the water

So what traits arose from these inner values?

– hardworking (you can slap me if you’ve ever met a harder worker)
– impatient (when people don’t perform to his expectations)
– considerate
– competitive

What mannerisms align with these traits?

– He walks very fast.
– He looks straight ahead (tunnel vision – he gets in a zone).
– If a worker at one of his stops starts talking to him, he’ll often stand by the door and listen, but quickly searches for an appropriate time to bring the conversation to an end so he can do his job (a combination of considerate and impatient)

Some conflict:

Often, his impatience to get the job done and to do it well conflicts with his desire to be considerate. If somebody interrupts him while working, his body language might express his impatience. And afterwards, he often scolds himself for his negative attitude and “rude” body language. He feels bad about it and promises himself he won’t fall into the same trap next time.

This was such a fun process to do together. I found out a whole slew of interesting things about my husband. I couldn’t help thinking that I might like to borrow some of his traits, values, etc. for a character in one of my books someday. I’m probably bias (since I love him), but I think he’d make an excellent hero in a contemporary romance!

Question to ponder: How do you get to know your characters on a deep level? How do you make sure they are round instead of flat?removetweetmeme

12 thoughts on “Getting into Character: An Interview with my Hubby

  1. T. Anne

    Great idea! I'm spending the rest of the day interviewing some very important albeit invisible people πŸ˜‰

  2. Krista Phillips

    Love this!!! My poor husband… I’m not sure what he’d do if I interviewed him. He’d shrug his shoulders a lot, probably! HA!

    Love the idea of interviewing our characters. I tend to invite mine into my family while I’m writing. Jack and Jenny have been a dinner table discussion for the last two years. “Jenny is so frustrated with Jack today….” *grin* But an interview sounds awesome! On my things to do list…. is it just me or is that list growing MUCH faster than I can cross things off??

  3. Katie

    Hey ladies! Glad the post was helpful! Brandilyn Collins’ book is amazing and I only just read ch 1! I don’t want to read past ch. 1 until after I go through the exercise with the hero/heroine in my new story idea. Then when I get to ch. 2 – I’ll share what else I learn.

    Wendy – I usually approach mannerisms the same way. They sort of develop naturally. Although I like the idea of being more purposeful with them.

    Erica – she’s wonderful! The book is awesome. And I’m definitely starting to always ask myself that question – WHY? It’s such a great question. Why are you doing this. There should be a reason other than “Because my creator needs me to be here right now” πŸ˜‰

    Jody – great analogy! I often feel like a therapist with my characters.

    Cindy – characters are my favorite too! I’m glad my post was insightful for ya! πŸ™‚

  4. Cindy

    Katie, that was a wonderful post! I like what Brandilyn Collins said about taking a few mannerisms out of a hat and applying them to our character. I’ve done that so many times in the past. I’m super guilty of that!

    Because the characters are my favorite part of the writing process, I am trying to probe deeper, make them more real. Make the reader want to be their friend and really see them. I usually start off the story asking what my character’s motivation is. What are they trying to accomplish by the end of the story? Then I ask myself what they are willing to do to get there. These are great to help write scene progressing plots but I am going to try some of the advice you put here to go deeper. Thanks!

  5. Jody Hedlund

    I like the idea of interviewing our characters to get at their underlying motivation! In reality as authors, I think we’re more like a therapist. We often know a lot more about the internal conflicts of our characters than they do. Our writing is the therapy–as the story unfolds, our characters learn more about why they’re messed up and hopefully by the end, we’ve been able to help bring them some resolution.

  6. Erica Vetsch

    This was a fun blog post. Isn’t Brandilyn great?

    I used to get to know my characters by writing about them. In about 40-50 pages the characters would crystalize and then I’d have to go back and rewrite all the parts I got wrong about them up to that point.

    Now I use the GMC idea, along with always asking the question WHY a character does something. Actions have to spring out of their backstory, their goals, and their personality.

  7. Wendy

    How fun that you interviewed your husband. I think my husband feels like he’s on an interview 90% of the time with me (always asking him questions.)

    I completely agree with what you wrote about the instinct to slap character traits on our inventions. I think when we do this though, you are right, we might potentially miss the point, the significance of why we are doing it.
    I’ve found some of the traits come out AS I’m writing and not before…I let it happen naturally and then it generally ends up reading that way.
    ~ Wendy

  8. Katie

    Thanks MaryBeth, for the award! My very first, ever gnome award!

    Jill – I’m glad you liked the post! Hopefully the exercise will help everybody get to know their characters more. πŸ™‚

  9. Jill Kemerer

    What a fun post, Katie! And, you’re a brave woman sharing your hubby! I would have probably found a picture of some schlub so no one would be drooling–ha! ha! Seriously, though, great post.

  10. Katie

    Thanks Sherrinda! I tend to think he’s a cutie too…but like I said, I married the guy – so that’s a given. The way we met was very funny… a total Legally Blond thing. He was the delivery guy, I was the receptionist. He asked me out… I stuttered a, “Ummm.. me? Seriously? Sure!”. Now we’re married! Kind of a funny little side note.

    I completely recommend doing this character exercise! It was great to practice on a living, breathing human being too. Sometimes our characters aren’t as cooperative. It was a great practice. Very fun too. Now I need to do it with the two new character hanging out in my head.

    I’m for sure going to continue sharing what I learn from this book. Same with GMC – which is AMAZING! I’m going to blog about this later in the week. So stay tuned!

  11. Marybeth Poppins

    Great post and very insightful. I’m going to definitely use this exercise for my new character that I am developing!!!

    PS you won and award on my blog today πŸ˜‰

  12. sherrinda

    Awesome post!!! And Katie, you can be bias, but your husband could easily be on the cover of your next book and he alone could sell it. He is CUTE! Or better yet, you could be the heroine…what a lovely couple you are!

    How cool to do that exercise with your husband and learn so much, not only about your husband, but about the process of developing a character. I do hope you continue to share your journey through this book! It was very helpful, and I need all the help I can get!


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