Posted by: Alastair Rosie | July 24, 2012

Character Interviews.

Writer’s block to a writer is a bit like the common cold. You don’t want to admit you’ve got it, you take vitamin C, horseradish, all kinds of concoctions from the chemist but eventually you have to throw up your hands and admit it.

You’ve got writer’s block. Welcome to the club. We all get this dreaded virus and like the cold it can drag on and on making us, and sometimes those around us, miserable. Like the common cold there’s no cure for it, you can only alleviate the symptoms and let the infection run its course.

There are a multitude of ways to ease the symptoms but I’m only going to talk about one. Why one you ask? I need help! The answer, dear suffering writer is that it could take quite a few pages and you’re hovering over the mouse contemplating going back to your manuscript for one last shot at literary glory before crawling up on the sofa in front of the tv.

This isn’t the most effective way of getting over writer’s block but it will at least give you the ability to work at your book without actually working on the book.

Interested? I thought so.

One way of dealing with writer’s block I’ve found particularly useful are character interviews. I’ve mentioned them before in passing, but having spent the last few days backing up old stories I came across some interviews, along with a heap of stuff that probably should be deleted. These interviews were written at a time when I had been struggling with a book on vampires. I was at the same brick wall I’d been before time and again, the wall seemed to stretch forever and so I decided to pull some of my characters out and interview them. I wanted them to justify to me why they should even be in the story.

The results were actually surprising, it gave me a whole new perspective and one I’ll go back to in the next couple of months. I started off with fairly random questions. What is your favourite colour? Who are your favourite bands? I then progressed to some fairly in depth questions that gave me some much needed insight into my characters. Some of course failed completely and were either written out of the next draft or given minor roles. But some like Elizabeth McIvor rose to the occasion and gave a good account of themselves. I’ve included an excerpt for you below.
Elizabeth is the CEO for a nationwide network of fashion stores and a former supermodel, she’s also one of the staunchest defenders of the vampires. Notice how I haven’t mentioned vampire once in this excerpt.

Peter: On another subject entirely, you were recently criticized by certain Republican candidates during the last Primary for your views on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Elizabeth: It’s called democracy and freedom of speech, those particular individuals need to realize that at the end of the day not everyone goes along with their opinions. With the Patriot act, which is a goddamn misnomer, we have given the government carte blanche to strip away our democratic rights to the rule of law, trial by a jury of our peers and the right to privacy. You have to look at this from a purely subjective point of view. Was it beneficial to go into Afghanistan? Was it beneficial to go into Iraq? What are the benefits? The people we went to save are in a worse condition than they were before, there is no democracy in either country, they’re divided by sectarian violence and even now the war hawks are advocating going into Iran. If the Republicans are so fired up about going to war then perhaps they should exchange their fancy suits for uniforms and go into battle instead of expecting ordinary tax paying Americans to go in their steads. Our politicians for the most part are all moral cowards. If you stood them on the block at a slave auction I wouldn’t give you a dollar for them if you sold them as a block lot.
Peter: Is there any hope?
Elizabeth: I see some hope in popular protest movements, I’m a big believer in people power. It’s what has kept House of McIvor from going under time and time again. I look after my people from the lowest paid employee through to members of the board, I insist on that frequently. People are the answer to the problems besetting this country. We don’t need the social scientists and financial whiz kids coming out with sure fire solutions. We need people to put their shoulders to the wheel and move this country out of a dependence on a stock market culture and back to producing goods and services. And here I am blasting the stock market again but it’s like a dog, useful as long as it’s under control of the master but don’t let it get out of control. Don’t let the dog control the master, these venture capitalists are great for moving money around a board but of no use in constructing a society that serves the people.
Peter: Strong words.

As you can see, it’s a basic interview and I can tell you that about 70-80% of that won’t make it into this book or even books two and three, and yes, I am planning on writing more than one. But some of these statements and opinions will make it into the final mix. It gives breadth and colour to my characters, from the most minor details to something as important as their hopes and dreams. These interviews serve as a useful springboard for when you do start to recover from writer’s block. As you can see she’s very opinionated, a CEO but with libertarian views. The reference to the slave auction is the only hint that we have she’s been involved with vampires, who have been to the slave auctions of course!

But I loved this interview because she seized the moment and let me know exactly what she felt about the world. I learned she actually cares about her employees, which as it turns out means she insists on being called Elizabeth instead of Ms McIvor or ma’am, this woman has a good sense of her own mortality and humanity. So she stays and after a few interviews with vampires I began to gain a new perspective, the next version was born and I began to recover from writer’s block.

Some authors will actually post interviews on their website but on that I would concur with Kristen Lamb, it’s a gimmick and while there are no hard and fast rules, do so carefully, it can so easily spiral out of control and you’ll find yourself having to answer comments from your character. It takes you away from writing books. A better option is to have extra material, bios, deleted scenes perhaps that can be posted on the site, similar to to an extended version of a movie.

Nevertheless as background material a character interview can be an invaluable source of information for you, and some of that information will find its way into your ‘bestseller’ in dialogue and description.

So turn the tv off, it rots your brain! Fire up your word processor and start talking to your characters, you never know they may just have the antidote for writer’s block and wouldn’t that be a boon for mankind?

I wish you every success in your writing career.

Alastair.

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