Mark Terry

Friday, February 20, 2009

Characterization, Part 5

February 20, 2009
Let's wrap this up. I don't always do this, but sometimes I do, particularly if I've been away from a character for a while. I interview my character. Yep, I even do it in a Q&A format and on paper and have an interview or conversation with my character right on the page. And my characters almost always surprise me with their attitudes and some of the answers to the questions. I think it frees my mind up by getting away from plot and description by simply having a one-on-one with them.

So, in the interest of an example, I'm going to have a conversation with the main character of the SF novel I'm working on. His name is Dr. Con Torres.

MT: Hello Doctor. How are you today?
CT: Good morning, Mark. You seem tired.

MT: It's early. I've been getting up early to get some extra work done.
CT: Makes sense. Just make sure you don't overdo it. You know if you go too long without enough sleep you get sick more often.

MT: I'll try not to. Let's talk about you. What year is it?
CT: 2432 EY. That's Earth Years, which essentially refers to AD. It's 142 GM, which is Galactic Measure, which refers to the founding of the Galactic Union.

MT: You're employed by...
CT: Doctors Without Borders.

MT: They've been around a long time.
CT: They're necessary. Maybe more so than ever.

MT: But you worked for the Galactic Health Organization for a while, right?
CT: Not much left there. As you know, GHO scientists developed a technique for supercharging the immune system a dozen years ago or so. It was considered to be a huge breakthrough and because GHO physicians were constantly being exposed to a wide array of new infectious agents, most of us were eager to partake of the treatment.

MT: But...
CT: It wasn't tested thoroughly in the long-term. About 97% of the people who underwent the treatment died.

MT: But you didn't.
CT: Not yet.

MT: So you heal quickly?
CT: Yes. I don't seem to get sick and I heal from injuries very quickly. Although we don't know for sure yet, it seems likely that the side effect is a dramatically shorter life. We just don't know when. But none of us knows how long we'll live, do we?

MT: Can we talk about Sally's View?
CT: (Sighs). I'm trying to be cooperative here.

MT: You're not a combative guy.
CT: I believe I can get the things done that I need to do by convincing people rather than through force of personality. I'm often cooperative.

MT: You mean you seem cooperative.
CT: (Shrugs and smiles).

MT: What happened at Sally's View?
CT: Sally's View was a city on the planet Manitoba, one of the Earth colonies. Manitoba was attacked by the Kevlu from space. They then landed on the planet and went house to house killing everybody they could find left. Sally's View was a city of about 100,000 people outside New Vancouver, which had been incinerated from space. Over two million dead in New Vancouver, but the plasma blasts turned everything into glass, so there were no bodies, exactly.

MT: But on Sally's View?
CT: This isn't easy to talk about, you know.

MT: Out of 100,000 people, how many survivors were there in Sally's View?
CT: Six. Two of them died. Four of them are still alive.

MT: Do you keep in touch with them?
CT: (long pause). I do.

MT: All of them?
CT: Yes.

MT: Are you close?
CT: Allison is like a daughter.

MT: How old is she?
CT: She would be 19 EY now.

MT: Where does she live?
CT: Earth. She's attending medical school.

Damn, people. This really works. I knew about Sally's View, but I didn't realize he'd stayed in touch with any of the survivors and I knew nothing about Allison. You see why this is worthwhile? It's all pretty much backstory, but it's important backstory in developing this character.

I hope you got something out of this series.

Mark Terry


Anonymous Parker Haynes said...

Mark, It's always good to hear how another writer works. I've started doing character interviews after too many times of getting well into a story and suddenly realizing I didn't know who the devil my character really was.

In my own rebel mind, the word interview implies a stiffness, a formality that I'm not comfortable with. I prefer having my character over for coffee at the kitchen table, or taking a long walk together. In can be any situation that let's us both relax and just hang out, same as we might with a new friend. That works better for me, but I'm just a laid back, retired old hippie.

6:08 AM  
Blogger spyscribbler said...

That's fascinating! I tend to slip into their skin, more. While in the shower. LOL! Just me! I try to be them, feel like them, see the world like them.

This is fascinating, though. I should try it!

6:18 AM  
Blogger Jude Hardin said...

Just wanted you to know I've enjoyed the series.

6:20 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Oh, I do that, too. It's just that sometimes I just need to go one-on-one with the character. Maybe it involves a different part of my brain.

6:41 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Glad you enjoyed it.

6:41 AM  
Blogger B. Nagel said...

Aerin from insearchofgiants just posted about this on her writer's challenge page. There's a whole round of questions and a picture of Sigmund Freud.
It's interesting to hear from other writers how much of their character development is planned and how much is discovered.

WordVer: billygro
what young male goats take to enhance their beards.

10:43 AM  

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