Welcome to another Freelance to Fiction post. Last week, I shared my experiences in freelancing and fiction, and how it’s helped me learn to be an author, which I believe is a continual WIP. <grin>
In fifteen plus years as a freelancer, I’ve interviewed dozens of people in person and over the phone. Today, I’d like to share the techniques I used before, during and after the interview, and how it helps me flesh out my fictional characters.
Research & Formulation of Questions
One of the people I interviewed was a man who harvested cedar. The article was going in a newsletter for a specialty wood products company. Since I knew nothing about the process (fascinating by the way) I read numerous articles online about it so I could not only formulate questions that were pertinent, I could converse at least somewhat intelligently.
So it goes with my characters. For example, say one of my characters is a carpenter. I’ll read some general articles about the subject, and talk to a contractor friend of mine to get an idea for the who, what, where, when why and how.
In addition, some excellent resources for formulating questions specifically tailored to ferreting out the whole of a character:
Outlining Your Novel – Map Your Way to Success by K.M. Weiland, and
The Positive Trait Thesaurus, and The Negative Trait Thesaurus, both by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi
Additionally, Weiland includes a section in her Outlining Your Novel book about asking questions. She recommends asking not only what is expected, but what is not expected. A great jumping off point.
Interviewing is an art, and listening is what unlocks the magic. Ask your question, and shut up. <another grin>
Knowing what questions to ask
In my research, I’ll come up with a lot of information, far more than I can and will use in the space of time I have for an interview. Therefore, I have to ask selective, key questions – the ones I feel will yield the most interesting, appealing or important answers or information. Always, I’m thinking about my reader – what will he or she be interested in? Not the mechanics of how to install trim, but how about a story the person shares about the time his grandfather taught him to run a radial arm saw?
What did I do if the person wasn’t feeling chatty? Again, knowing what questions to ask helped. Sometimes, it took a bit of doing, but once I hit on the right question, often it opened a floodgate.
The same process applies to character development. Listening to them, and letting them talk can often yield amazing results, and flesh out a formerly reserved or uncooperative character, or add richness and depth to another. There are tons of character interview question checklists that exist that are pages long. In my humble opinion, answering all of the questions isn’t practical or a good use of my time. Instead, using the questions, again, as a jumping off point seems to make better sense. Some questions will apply more to one character versus another, and so on.
Let ‘em talk. Lots of times, if an interview was going well, the person would digress into areas, or share stories that strayed from the original question. Though it’s important to manage your time and stay on track, it was in these discussions I often found the gold that took a good article and made it great. Same with my characters. Sometimes, just a few questions will get the creative juices flowing and yield pages of fascinating material. Brainstorm. Let it fly!
I always found transcribing my notes immediately after the interview was key. Often, I’d be taking down notes and forming impressions I couldn’t capture on paper – and they fade surprisingly fast. When I started typing them up, I’d be able to expound on my notes and capture those all-important impressions and thoughts.
With my characters, I’ve found in this phase of brainstorming I work well in short uninterrupted bursts. Again, I get to my laptop, and transcribe my notes in Scrivener. This allows me to capture all my impressions. If I don’t, I often find even hours later, I’m unable to read my own handwriting!
As an aside, I often write in Notehand – a type of phonetic shorthand I learned in high school. Who knew I’d be using it all these years later? Thanks Mrs. D’Augostino.