Interviewing Characters: Follow the Energy
On November 13, 2007 I ran out of plot for the NaNoWriMo novel I was writing. I had no idea what to write next. That’s not uncommon for NaNo novelists, but I hadda do something to jiggle myself loose. In NaNoWriMo, word count is everything, and I couldn’t afford to fall behind.
So I tried something I hadn’t tried before: I interviewed my characters.
Well, that turned out to be more interesting than I’d anticipated. And it boosted my word count to boot. And on top of that, it offered some plot ideas.
I didn’t use any pre-planned questionnaire. There are zillions of character questionnaires on the web, and none of them ever seemed to get at the heart of the character.
Instead, I did what I do in many real-life interviews: Follow the energy. The idea is to:
- Ask a question that invites the character to tell me something new
- Listen for emotional intensity in the answer. Sometimes the emotion is subtle, and other times it's big and obvious.
- Ask my next question based on that emotion.
Rather than describing this process in detail, I’ll let you read the interviews as I conducted them, unedited. I offer these interviews not necessarily as exemplary, but merely as examples. The thing to notice is how I followed the characters’ energy.
Some background: The novel involves a time loop. Every 29 hours, the characters (and everyone else in the story world) loop back in time. The story follows two main plots.
In the first plot, Dan Roberge murders his wife Faith and her lover Zorem. Then time loops and he murders them again. And again. Police detectives Ray Andollo and Patty Yonce investigate.
In the second plot, Amy Anderson saves her son from drowning in a pond on the family farm. Then time loops and her son drowns. Then time loops again. After the first incident (before the first time loop), Amy’s husband Frank becomes engraged when he discovers that Amy had been drinking while their sons played at the pond.