DIY MFA Homework Assignment 4: Character Interview!

Posted 6 April, 2011 by DLWhite in Snips&Shorts, Writers Write 2 Comments

Another way to get to know our characters (a way I love) it to interview them. This sort of feels… schizophrenic, but it’s cool how the answers just come out. Same character… let’s see how she feels about some things:

  • What was your scariest moment? – I took over my father’s old, out of date bookstore when he got too sick to run it. He didn’t want it to be flashy and newfangled and threatened to never step foot in it. I had to go with what I knew was right, to keep the store going.
  • What was your happiest moment? – I don’t know if I remember a happiest moment. I remember the last time I laughed was when I was at brunch with the girls… or maybe our trip to Tybee Island last summer. It was nice to get away.
  • What’s the most dangerous thing you’ve ever done? -I’m not really a risk taker. If I do dangerous things, it’s on accident, like the time I alked into a drug store while it was being robbed and I had no idea.
  • What is your biggest regret? Hmmmm. I should have married Marcus. I should have said yes to him.
  • Who do you love most in the world? My daddy. He is my heart.
  • What is your most prized possession? I’d have to say the house I live in. I grew up there and I left and came back when daddy got sick. After he was settled into the nursing home, I started making little changes and just coudln’t stop. It’s a small place but it’s paid off and it’s mine.
  • Do you have a nemesis? Who? Not really a nemesis but Maxine Smith has been bossing me around and giving me bad advice since we was 14.
  • Who was your first love? Sigh. Marcus. I should have married him.
  • Where is your favorite place? Out on my back porch. I have a screen and a nice view of the lake and the woods beyond that.
  • Who or what makes you feel safe? I really don’t settle down at night until I call and talk to Daddy. I like to know he’s okay before my head hits the pillow.
  • Who makes you jealous?  Sometimes Maxine. But most of the time Debra. She’s got a marriage and a home and a family and a “we” where I just have me, myself, and I and mine. 
  • Who or what makes you feel inadequate? – Maxine. She’s so much glamour and I’m so…. girl next door.
  • What is your theme song? –Brick House. Haha!
  • What is your signature color? Well, I wear a lot of black, as we voluptuous women do. I like red, though.
  • What is your favorite season? Spring. The newness of it all is inspiring.
  • What is your catch-phrase?  Hindsight is 20/20
  • What is your pet peeve? Late folks. I hate for folks to be late and impose on my time like it’s less valuable than theirs!
  • List your character’s ten favorite things 1. The smell of books 2. The scent of the air after rainfall 3. Hearing Daddy say ‘Heyyyyy noodle’ in that thin, frail voice 4. A nice looking, chocolate man.. What? 5. Actual chocolate- the sight, the smell, the taste. 6. Chocolate ON a chocolate man. What? 7. Apple pie, fresh from the oven. 8. A nice hot cup of tea, first thing in the morning, no matter the season. 9. Fireflies 10. A dark, cold, rainy evening shut up in the house with the fireplace going, a bowl of popcorn in my lap, a stack of movies… and some chocolate next t me. What?

Homework: Answer all these questions quickly in your character’s voice and point of view.  Now go back and choose three answers, and follow-up like you would if you were a reporter doing an interview.  Don’t let your character get away with easy answers.  Dig deep.  Ask who, what, when, where, why and how.  Whenever your character starts to shy away from answering, press him or her further.  Keep asking: “tell me more about that” until you get to the juicy information.

Me: Let’s talk about Debra… you said she makes you jealous. Why?

Renee: Debra is… well, she’s one of those women that’s living the dream, you know? She’s got it all- a nice career, good paycheck, married to a good man, has a daughter. She lives a good life.

Me: And you’re jealous of that because it’s what you want?

Renee: Not just because it’s what I want, but because she has it and it seems like she can’t wait to get away from it.

Me: What do you mean?

Renee: I mean, her husband dotes on her and she feels suffocated. They have big old house, lots of room, very contemporary… she says it’s too big. She wants to sell and get a condo in the city. She just seems so… dissatisfied with what she has. And people like me would give anything to have what she has.

Me: And Maxine, you said, makes you feel inferior. How?

Renee: Oh, Max. She’s just… she’s just Max. When I met her she was as nerdy as I was. We were in a study group in Jr High and hit it off. And then we got to high school and Max discovered her boobs. And so did the boys. All of a sudden, she’s grown, wearing heels and makeup. She got a perm in her hair and started flinging it around like the white girls.

Me: So she changed a lot? Did she want you to join her in that?

Renee:  Yeah, she changed… but not for me. She was the same when we were alone but when we were with other people she acted like I was the hired help or something.

Me: Did she try to help you make changes?

Renee: Yeah… but… I wasn’t interested in all that.

Me: Because….

Renee: Because no matter how much I dressed myself up, I never got the attention Max got. I never looked like Max, or sounded like Max. I wasn’t sexy and slinky like her. Boys didn’t like me like they liked her. Boys didn’t like me at all, in fact.

Me: You don’t think that’s true, do you?

Renee: Please. Boys only talked to me to get at Max. She knew it. Used it to her advantage. 


 Now I’d like to know: what’s the most surprising thing you learned about your character?

Probably that she has a great relationship with her father, since I don’t have the best relationship with mine.

2 Responses to “DIY MFA Homework Assignment 4: Character Interview!”

  1. Joyce Lansky

    This is a great exercise. For me, the most difficult part of writing has been making my characters full dimensional. I might have a MC who seems real, but the others tend to fall flat. Back to revisions.