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Character Interviews – How to make the people in your children’s stories come to life!

Do you have trouble creating complete characters in your children’s stories? Then try this tip from writer Lisa Harkrader, who learned it a few years ago in a workshop she took from writer Sandy Asher (thank goodness writers love to share). Lisa says that if she had to pick one thing that she has improved her writing the most, it would be this: the character interview.

There is nothing mysterious about the character’s interview. It’s simply a list of questions to ask your main character before you start writing. You ask a question, then your main character answers (Yes, you should start hearing voices when you do this, but if you’re a writer you probably already hear them anyway, so relax).

Says Lisa, “My characters tend to be extensive, and they usually tell me a lot of things that I never dreamed of before I started interviewing them. I don’t use all of that information in the story, but it gives me a really good insight. of the character and the character’s voice, so I know what that character sounds like when they speak. It almost always gives me a better understanding of the plot, and sometimes it leads to better endings or a different nuance of certain events. Occasionally, especially when I write in the first person, I pick up sentences or paragraphs directly from the interview. Another thing interviews help me with is deciding when to use the first or third person. If a character’s voice is strong and fresh enough to convey As a whole story, I feel comfortable using the first person. If a character is more active than talkative, the third person works better.”

Lisa conducted character interviews when she was working on her latest middle grade novel, AIRBALL: MY LIFE IN BRIEFS, which was recently (September 2005) published by Roaring Brook Press. The interview questions Lisa uses have evolved over the years. This is the list that she now asks her characters for:


1. Describe yourself: what is your best quality? What is your worst?

2. Describe your family.

3. Who is your best friend? Why?

4. What did you ask for on your last birthday? What did you get?

5. What is the one thing you wish other people knew about you?

6. What is your biggest secret, the one thing you don’t want ANYONE to know?

7. What are you most afraid of?

8. What do you want more than anything?

Remember, you do not have to stick to these particular questions or use ONLY these questions. As you get used to conducting character interviews, you will probably develop your own questions that will allow you to get to know and understand your characters, so that they really come to life in your children’s stories.

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