Characterization is complicated. Some characters appear in a flash, fully formed and alive, but that doesn’t happen very often. Others characters take a while to get to know and you have to coax them into existence.
A lot of people talk about filling out lists upon lists of character description in order to know your characters, and that can help when you want to keep certain details straight or give you a place to finally write out that idea you had about how the character would react in a specific situation. I generally use free writing exercises and writing prompts to explore my characters. This is how I decide the character’s attitudes and glean insight on their personality based of reactions to specific situations. I generally use prompts that are relevant to the world I’m building over the lists of prompts you can find in books or on the Internet.
Doing character interviews is fun, but I don’t always use ridiculous questions like what’s your favorite color or ice cream flavor. I mean come on, not everyone even likes or knows what ice cream is. And knowing your character’s favorite color is only useful if you know why you need to know it. I like to answer questions that can be potentially relevant to understanding my characters. How does liking blue effect your character?
It took a long time to flesh out Xanthe’s character, in fact I’m still getting to know her. I wrote many writing prompts with her before she transformed into the character she is today. Xanthe was originally a supporting character in another story I worked on for a long time and decided to put aside. She was just the computer geek friend who was a little introverted and willing to talk to another girl who was new to living in space. She had an outline in my imagination but never really popped off the page. It wasn’t until I came up with a short story where a girl wakes up in the hospital in someone else’s body that it hit me that I just found the key element to her character. It was her reactions to that situation and how that changed her for subsequent stories that Xanthe’s character really came to life.
The following character interview helped me to understand Xanthe before she experiences the above mentioned situation and the events that happen within the novel I’m currently rewriting (Identity: A Jention Chronicles Novel).
I hope you enjoy!
WriterAlina: Hello Xanthe, I am so happy you are taking time out of your busy schedule to meet with me today. My readers are excited to learn a little about you.
Xanthe: *smiling weakly and shifting in her chair* Sure. It’s no trouble. Did you get my encryption program? I can’t have you post my personal information without it. If Jerico finds out any of the information I’m about to share with you I will be executed for treason. *pause* And I’ll be implicating my family and friends who will also probably be tried and execute.
WA: Of course! I followed all of your instructions by the letter.
X: *nodding* Just so we’re clear. *She relaxes into her chair.*
WA: Don’t worry. I will only post what you are comfortable with and will share the final result for you to approve before I post our interview.
X: Thank you, I really appreciate that… So… What do you want to talk about?
WA: Well first off, I have some basic background questions to go and then we’ll more on to more nitty gritty, impromptu questions.
WA: Can you give us your full name and the names of your immediate family members?
X: Xanthe Deron. My father is Flavian Deron. My mother is Amara Paine Deron. I have two younger siblings: my brother’s name is Julian, he’s two years younger than me, and my sister’s name is Ambrosia, she’s three and a half years younger.
WA: Excellent. What is your birthdate?
X: *A look of bewilderment crosses her fine features.* Really? Why would you even care about my birthday? The date wouldn’t mean anything to you anyway; we don’t use the Earth calendar anymore. I don’t even know when the last time the Earth calendar was used. We use the Interstellar Confederate standard calendar that details what the star date is and keeps all the various planets’ calendars aligned. Then of course there is the Kinarran calendar, which is a thirteen month year and 30 hour days.
I guess what you really want to know is how old I am. For that purpose you can convert my age to about *She closes her eyes for a moment and opens them again.* 15 Earth years. That would make Julian around 13 and Ambrosia just turning 12.
WA: I have to admit, that was a canned question as well as these next ones. Where were you born and where do you live now?
X: I was born at home in district four of Gan City of Gan Prefecture on planet Kinarra. We still live in the same house.
WA: Oh wow. You were born at home? Is that very usual? I hear that Kinarra is a pretty harsh place.
X: Um… I don’t know how usual it is. It’s technically illegal to not be born in a hospital where doctors can tag you the moment you come out of the womb. But my family are extreme naturalists and have petitioned the government to allow our family to wear tracking bracelets instead of receiving implants.
*Xanthe lifts her right hand and two stainless steel bracelets clink together about her wrist, too small to slip over her hand.*
My mother gets around going to the hospital because she waited so long to go that my siblings and I are born at home.
WA: Isn’t that dangerous? What if there were complications?
X: We’re lucky. Mrs. Adams, Koren’s mother — my best friend’s mother, is a nurse who delivers babies for a living. She’s delivered most of the children in our building both at home and at the district hospital.
WA: Does that put your friend’s mother in danger of being sacked?
X: *shaking her head* No because she always comes up with an appropriate medical reason for why the mother shouldn’t be moved to the hospital. You see, we live in one of the outlier districts of Gan City. We don’t have cars and walk or ride bikes most places. The last stop of the mag-lev is a ten minute walk from our building. For example my mother could walk to the station and take the mag-lev two stops to the hospital, but it’s a 20 minute walk if a taxi or rickshaw doesn’t pick her up. But that’s what many of the women have to deal with where I live, so it’s easier to have babies at home. And it’s super expensive to call an ambulance to transfer to the hospital from were we are. Usually Mrs Adams is able to evaluate the situation soon enough to know if it’s worth the effort to go to the hospital.
WA: Why do you live in such a remote part of the city? Isn’t your father a technical manager at the mines? Surely he makes enough money for you to live in a better part of town.
X: I guess I’m not describing things very well. *She looks up with her eyes as she thinks.* We live in District Four for two reasons 1) we’re Mainlanders — these are people who are born and raised on Kinarra and have been for generations — Mainlanders are only allowed to live in the outskirt districts Four, Five, and Six. To be honest I’m still trying to figure out why that’s the case or how that law even came about in the first place. And 2) we live where we do because it’s close to the mines. It’s an easy commute to work for my father; it makes life better for us if we can see our father in the evenings.
WA: That sounds rather complicated.
X: Yeah, tell me about it. It’s very frustrating to be told that you can only live in certain places because of where your family was born and no one can give a satisfying reason for why it’s like that. Or that you have a curfew when the inner districts don’t. It’s all really messed up.
WA: Well I guess we’ll dive into some of the more complicated questions earlier than I expected. Can you tell us a little bit about your… activities outside of school?
X: *She smiles broadly, showing a dimple on her right cheek.* Yeah, that’s the real reason you wanted to talk to me isn’t it?
WA: Guilty as charged. Though I have other interests as well, it’s just this is the most compelling subject.
X: *nodding her understanding* I guess I walked into that one pretty fast didn’t I? *She pauses a moment and looks away.* You are going to use my program right? I don’t talk like this to just anybody. You’re promising to tell my side of the story. No creative license.
WA: Everything you say will be your words, no interpretation from me. This is just another way you can tell off-worlders your story. We don’t have to do this if you don’t want to.
X: I do. It’s important. It’s just… *She shifts in her chair and crosses her arms over belly.* Jerico watches my family very closely. My Grandfather was taken two years ago when a Colonial accused him of being an MFO spy and an unregistered Corp Rep. He never came back. We don’t know if he’s dead or alive. No one really talks about it, but for sure my family is being watched.
*silence falls for a few seconds*
WA: As I said before, you don’t have to say anything you don’t want to. But can you clarify some terms for my readers?
X: *nodding* I know.
WA: Perhaps we can ease into the question a little better. Colonials are people who live on Kinarra who are not Mainlanders? People who are not descended from the original Kinarran colonists correct?
X: Yes. They are people from other Confederate worlds who now live on Kinarra.
WA: What is MFO?
X: *Xanthe drops her arms from around her belly and leans forward a bit.* It stands for Mainlander Freedom Offensive. It’s a large organization that pushes for Mainlander rights. For example being able to live in any district of a Kinarran city, overturning the Mainlander curfew, And fight for the right to move freely between Mainland Kinarra and the Kinarran space stations. You know we have to get special permission to leave the planet period. I don’t even know a Mainlander who has ever left Kinarra for good, who’s emigrated to another Confederate planet. We fight for equal representation in the government, right now only one percent of the representatives are actually Mainlanders and vote for Mainlander needs.
Everyone is tracked but it seems that Mainlanders are overtly monitored more often than not by the police when it comes to crimes. For whatever reason every Mainlander is suspect, when all we do is live our lives.
WA: Do you think there is some kind of historical reason for this?
X: *shrugs* There were big riots when the colonials first came to Kinarra. Kinarrans wanted to be self governed and didn’t want the Confederacy to be the overlord.
WA: But isn’t that what it means to be a Confederacy? For each party to be self governed?
X: Yes. But somehow that’s not what happens in practice.
WA: And what about the Corp? You said your grandfather was accused of being an unregistered Corp Rep. What does that mean?
X: *She takes a deep breath and sighs.* In short the Corp is a confederate wide institution for people with psychic abilities. Mind readers, telechenetics, prophetics that sort of thing. Kinarrans in general are anti unexplained phenomenon. They don’t want to think that other people are controlling them. It’s a big deal to be accused of being an unregistered Corp Representative.
WA: You don’t have to answer the next question if you don’t want to, but was there any basis to the accusations?
*A long silence.*
X: I– *She clenches her jaw and looks down. After a minute or two she looks directly at me.* Yes. That’s why it’s so hard. The accusations… *She takes a deep breath.* The accusations apply to me too.
WA: Are you sure you want to share this?
X: If you are going to tell my story, it’s part of who I am and your readers need to know. *Xanthe sights straighter in her chair, lifting her chin slightly.* I am an official MFO operative and I’m an unregistered clairvoyant. Most of my friends know that I’m MFO, but that’s because they are too, but only my family knows about being Jention. That’s what we call ourselves. The whole family is, since the beginning I think.
WA: What does that mean for you? To be Jention? Do you have some kind of special powers.
X: *barks a laugh* No. I don’t read minds or see the future or anything like that. Sometimes my mother sees the future, but the future changes all the time so it’s not anything like people think it is. For us it’s a matter of awareness and self control. If you are observant and aware of your surroundings it can look like clairvoyance to a lot of people. My parents taught me and my siblings to be aware of our bodies, how we feel, and to distinguish between what is our true thought and the thought of something else.
There is also energy that plays between people and when you are aware of that you can read people much easier and deeper. Sometimes you can use that to deal with them. I can often tell when people are lying or think they are telling the truth. It’s a nice way to know people I’m dealing with. I can also move things and people with my energy to supplement my physical strength. I’ve successfully fought off opponents twice my size.
WA: I’m not sure I understand what you mean by your true thought and other thoughts?
X: *frowning* That’s the only way I can describe it. *looks down and tilts her head* Hmm. *looks back at me, eyes intense* Imagine that you’re in a crowd of people. Some people get swept up by the mass of consciousness that builds up in a crowd without really knowing it. Perhaps they are protesting or giving off the “you must buy” vibration. Many people buy things they don’t need because they aren’t aware of the energy around them.
WA: I guess that makes sense. But how does that make you different from anyone else.
X: Ultimately it’s not supposed to, but if you are able to influence people by manipulating the energy around them because they are not aware of themselves that can be scary.
WA: But why call yourselves anything at all?
X: * Xanthe’s brow furrows* That’s a good question. I don’t know. *She shrugs.* As I said before, it’s been like that since the beginning of out family. Practicing self awareness isn’t something everyone does, but I certainly believe everyone is capable of it.
WA: Well that’s all the time we have for today. Would you be willing to come back to have a slightly more lighthearted conversation?
X: *Xanthe smiles a smile that reaches her striking blue-green eyes and nods* I would like that very much. Maybe we can talk about my favorite subject in school or something.
WA: *smiling back* I’ll keep that in mind. Thank you for conversing with me.