Kat Yeh: Taking Your Character Interview to the Next Level

KAT YEH 2014I wrote a post a few years ago for my friend, author Lynne Marie, about interviewing your characters. In it, I suggest that to really get to know a deeper layer of your character, an interview should have two phases. First, the regular set of questions asked. And next, the same questions asked Whilst Under A Truth Serum. This has always been a helpful exercise for me. It helped me to write my characters, while knowing a deep truth that they themselves often didn’t.

Then, two summers ago, I went to a revision intensive with Emma Dryden during the SCBWI summer conference in LA. Emma took us through a great interview exercise. I had recently started developing my current WIP and thought it the right time to interview my new main character and get to know her a little better. The first question was What are You Most Afraid of?

And an interesting thing happened.

Here’s how that interview went:

Kat: What are you most afraid of, Finn?

Finn: (Silence)

Kat: Uh, Finn?

Finn: (folds arms and stares at the ground)

Kat: Emma Dryden is waiting, Finn – I’m going to need an answer.

Finn: You know that at my school they give you a star every time you do your homework.

There’s a Kid of the Week every week. And at the end of every year, there’s a Moving Up

to the next grade.

Kat: ?

Finn: If everything is always Special – it just means that nothing is special at all.

Kat: …

What became interesting to me was not the true feeling beneath all the posturing and attitude. It was the actual posturing and attitude. I was the writer. I already knew what the truth was. Now what fascinated me was the ways in which she chose to cloak her truth. The ways in which she chose to represent herself – regardless of what that truth was. What she showed the world despite what was inside.

This led me to thinking of alternate interview techniques. What are the different ways your main character would respond to the exact same question if it were asked by different people – with whom they had very different relationships.

Rather than being the Interviewer, I sent other characters from the story to ask for me:

The new yet-to-be-trusted school psychologist

The detached father at the end of a long day.

The best friend, writing letters from afar.

The stranger she will never see again.

The clueless younger sibling

I wanted to know whom she would trust. To whom she would lie. And particularly for whom she would create the most inventive answers.

No one wants to read about a one note character. Like people in the real world, the characters we are drawn to tend to have little hidden corners and nooks where they keep treasure and trash, secrets and sadness, joy and hilarity. Figuring out how your character

responds to the same question, under different circumstance, will give you tremendous insight on how to navigate them through the tricky travels of your story.

Did I necessarily use all this information in my manuscript? Perhaps not verbatim. But the answers will all be there, woven in the choices my character makes and the actions she takes.

Try it.

And good luck getting to know your characters.

Mine is currently grounded in her room.

(But I kinda have a feeling she will sneak out the window.)

Kat Yeh

Kat Yeh

Kat Yeh grew up reading, doodling, and scribbling in Westtown, Pennsylvania. She worked for many years in advertising and sports marketing — while writing for herself in the wee hours of the night. She currently lives on Long Island where she can see water everyday and explore all the bay and harbor beaches with her family. She is the author of children’s books YOU’RE LOVABLE TO ME, Random House Books for Young Readers (2009), THE MAGIC BRUSH: A STORY OF LOVE, FAMILY, AND CHINESE CHARACTERS, Walker Books for Young Readers (2011), and THE TRUTH ABOUT TWINKIE PIE, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (coming January 2015!), and THE FRIEND SHIP, Disney-Hyperion (coming 2016)!

Check out the Exercise Book for Kat’s character interview exercise!

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121 comments on “Kat Yeh: Taking Your Character Interview to the Next Level

  1. I talk to myself all the time so talking to an imaginary character should be a breeze…;~)

    Thanks, Kat, for the great post!

    Like

  2. Hi Kat, What a great post! I hadn’t thought about interviewing my character through the others. Now I will.

    Like

  3. Charlotte Dixon says:

    Thank you, Kat, for this creative tip to get to know our characters better.

    Like

  4. lisakwillard says:

    Kat, I imagine I will discover all kinds of things about my character by using others to ask the questions. Thank you!

    Like

  5. Deborah Allmand says:

    I love that you use the background material to help you create dialogue and gestures for each character that is separate from each other and you. This is a great way to handle making each character different in your manuscript. Thanks for the lecture!

    Like

  6. Kat: So many unique ways to discover who the character really is, inside and out. Thank you. ~Suzy Leopold

    Like

  7. Carrie Brown says:

    Looking at characters through the eyes of their supporting characters is a terrific way to go! Thanks for the unique angle!

    Like

  8. Yvonne Mes says:

    Great character interview techniques. I really like the truth serum idea.
    Thank you 🙂

    Like

  9. Truth Serum…. I just happen to have some handy! Thanks for the ideas!

    Like

  10. Nat says:

    Thanks Kat! Great post!

    Like

  11. I really like the idea of having multiple different characters ask the same question. Thanks for the advice!

    Like

  12. Brilliant idea! Thank you, Kat! I love the multi-interviewer approach! will definitely do that with my MC (although, depending on the interviewer, it may not be pretty…).

    Like

  13. I will be trying this interview technique with characters interviewing characters. A unique idea, which should prove interesting for my future characters.Thanks Kat!

    Like

  14. Val M says:

    What a great idea re: how would the MC respond to a “truth or dare” from other characters, since we all as humans share the side of us we want another person to see/know. Thank you, Kat.

    Like

  15. Thank you so much for this.

    Like

  16. Carella Herberger says:

    Thanks for the great suggestions!

    Like

  17. Debbie Austin says:

    I love this as another tool to rounding out characters. Having other characters interview the main character is something I wouldn’t have thought about. I expect it to reveal deeper layers of insight into who they really are. Great!

    Like

  18. Great interview and great post. Now to interview my MC. Thanks!

    Like

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