One way to establish the character of the main players in your story is to interview them.
Whether you’re a pantser or a planner, it’s wise to make notes about your recurring characters, to help establish a world that feels realistic. This is especially true if writing a series. Not just their physical characteristics, but likes and dislikes, including phobias, and basic stuff like their birth dates. I was four books into my Cornish Detective series when I realised I hadn’t given my MC a birthday! Fortunately, there was a gap in the timeline of the plots to have him celebrate, albeit alone, on October 4th.
Detective Chief Inspector Neil Kettle is a widower. I’d written about his grieving and depression, but missed out an obvious detail—did he still wear his wedding ring? I re-edited the first three novels to put it on his finger, having him store it in a drawer in the fourth book when he’s rebuilding his personal life in a new house.
I might have avoided these omissions, had I interviewed him.
Taking the first question from the HuffPost article What do you do and are you good at it? Neil Kettle would respond:
“I’m a detective leading a murder investigation team. I joined the force when I was twenty-years-old, following the unexpected deaths of my parents. They wanted me to take over their sheep farm, but it wasn’t for me. Growing up there, surrounded by tranquillity made me appreciate the need for calm and order, which is what I try to restore to society as a policeman. Being a farmer’s son gave me patience and resourcefulness. I’m a grinder, never giving up until I get my suspect.”
That answer gives some idea of his background and brooding watchfulness. Also, he’s a modest man, preferring to get the job done, rather than boast about it.
Immersed in plotting, punctuation, grammar, formatting and editing, it’s very easy to lose track of who your characters are as people. I’ve read some exciting crime novels which moved at quite a pace, with intriguing clues, but the hero was two-dimensional. Readers need to bond with the goodies and the villains if they’re going to read on and search out more of your stories.
It can be strangely intimidating to imagine sitting down opposite someone you’ve created, but who’s taken on an all too real identity in your mind, haunting your waking and sleeping hours.
It may be that you don’t like them very much, that they’re aggressive or annoying to be around. I based DCI Neil Kettle on various farmers and coppers I’ve known. There are aspects of him that I share, such as his liking of art, music, reading, cats, motorcycling and nature, but I’d find him too judgemental and reserved to be a friend.
Detectives have a saying, “Believe no one”. Neil Kettle has that caution and analytical way of observing people, which would be unsettling to experience, making me feel like I’d been up to no good from the way he looked at me!
Which of your characters would you interview?
What would they say?
Are any of your antagonists too scary to be near?
What about the sexy ones?
Apart from your own characters, which famous fictional character would you like to interview and why?
I’d like to have a chinwag with Winnie The Pooh, who’s got his priorities right, but Ewan McGregor beat me to it, thanks to making Christopher Robin.