Get to Know (Part of) Me
There’s a problem with National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). And I don’t mean the write-50,000-words-in-30-days thing.
You’re not allowed to start until November 1. So you spend October outlining, planning, brainstorming, world-building. And being frustrated because you love your book so much but you can’t write a word YET.
In preparation for NaNoWriMo, I did something I haven’t done a lot: interview my characters. I had fun with this one, and I’m sharing it as an example (because who doesn’t love free examples?).
Sure, I’ve tried lots of people’s methods for figuring out who my characters are. My personal opinion is that nothing beats actually writing the novel for figuring out that. But it’s usually easier to write the book if you have some inkling of what the characters are about.
Then I discovered Nat Russo’s blog post about discovering your character’s unique voice (voice being another area I struggle in). I found his interview format engaging, and inasmuch as he has subsequently admitted it was “borrowed” from another author, I am shamelessly “borrowing” it from him.
I think part of what appeals to me about this question list is that it’s not asking questions about the character – it’s asking questions of the character. This, of course, lets the character answer for himself in his own personal way (hence “voice”), but it also lets me tweak my characters. And insult them. And taunt them. And cackle at them. And they can’t do anything to stop me, and now my plan is going exactly…
Sorry. Without further ado, here’s the promised example, from this year’s NaNo novel (note: the starred questions are the ones lifted straight from Mr. Russo’s post):
*Who are you?
Tom Thaxton, Group Captain.
Okay, okay, most people call me Tommy. They could move on to something else…but you know, people. Once they’re used to something…
What’s your middle name?
Okay, moving on.
*What do you care about most in the world?
Well, principles are very important. You know, preservation of life, defense of the innocent –
What about people?
Of course people are very important. I’ve got a great team to work with: Ben McConnel, of course, Will Brant, Parker One and Two…
And then there’s my dad. He’s really important to me, obviously. He does some really important work for the militia, and we’re what keeps White Mesa safe from outside threats.
*What really ticks you off?
Uh, well, injustice is bad. It not only hurts the individuals affected, but damages the fabric of society by –
I don’t mean “makes you mad”, I mean “ticks you off”.
Do those guys really have to race around on their motorbikes like they’re the only ones on the road? I mean, if they’re outside the fence they are, but still: there are potholes out there that could lay them out flat – they’d be in traction for weeks and probably get a disability that kicks them off the force. Are they not even thinking? And especially when they’re inside the wire, they could kill some of these bicycles or carts or something. I mean, other people travel, too! And it’s just inconsiderate.
*If you could do one thing, and succeed at it, what would it be?
Wow. Just one thing? Everything’s tied together, you know. I think my success as a Group Captain is tied to my practice time on the range –
– Innate skill.
Practice time! Anyone who –
– With you it’s innate skill. I should know. Keep talking.
Um… Okay, but if I lost that skill – you know, broke a finger or something – I think I’d still be able to lead a team. There’s more to command than beating up your friends on the training grounds. I wish Ricco could see that.
Talk about Ricco.
I don’t think it’s my place.
Go on. Are you the friend he beats up on the training ground?
Can we move on?
Man. Okay, first off, I’d like to say we were friends, but I really don’t think he thinks of it like that. We are on the same team, but I really feel that he resents me for some reason. And, yes, he can beat me up. Go him. At least Ben works out because he likes it – with Ricco, it feels like he’s trying to prove something. And he’s not even happy when he cleans my clock! He’s got to go from there down to the range and try to raise his target rating.
Which he hasn’t managed to do.
Don’t say that. He’s gotten a lot better than he used to; if it wasn’t for his attitude, I could see him being my second. But he takes everything personally…Especially the fact that I’m a captain, and he’s a lieutenant. I don’t get it.
Let’s get back to you. In your dream life, what would you be?
I actually like what I’m doing now. I can’t tell you too much about it (covert ops and all that), but I really feel like I’m using my skills to good effect. Talking to city-dwellers, learning about their living system, feeling out potential threats, potential advantages and aids, is really rewarding. Plus it’s got the whole “spy” appeal to it.
Do you worry about your personal safety?
I’ve got the best training our program can offer. I’ve been in danger since I joined the militia. If I was looking for a safe occupation, I’d go repair shoes – with a thimble. Frankly, though, this is an important operation for the good of our population. Their safety and flourishing is more important than my survival. Any operative should understand and embrace that.
*What people do you most admire, and why?
My dad. He’s so smart, and selflessly devotes himself to his work, it’s no wonder everyone looks up to him. If I could make up for – Nevermind.
And I realize this might sound funny, but I have to plug Ben, here. He’s a great guy. And not just because he keeps saving my hide. He’s such a gracious, generous guy, I think everyone could learn something from him. He doesn’t shirk from what needs to be done, and he never thinks of himself. He’s just all-around awesome.
*What was your childhood like?
Pretty good. I know it’s a little weird me not having any siblings, but my cousins made up for that. My parents loved me, and loved each other. … I sort-of grew up with the militia and the council, you know…my dad a general, my mom a researcher. She was a biochemist, essentially, but dabbled in chemically-affected behavior, which helped in investigating the Ferality phenomenon. I…just wish she could still be here.
No one knows. She was out with a research team, in the city, and they broke contact. Disappeared. We’ve never found their remains – or, I mean, things that would point to what happened to them. It’s…sad.
*What’s the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to you?
Well…It was pretty bad when…So we were engaged with about two squads of Red Disciples. I had negotiated the release of some of our equipment, but I didn’t see there was someone – one of the gangsters – poised with a knife. I mean, he was behind me, after all. So then Ricco shot him, and they all snapped and the cease-fire broke and we had to gun the engines out of there. And I was yelling – well, not exactly yelling, I mean we were still on the bike – at Ricco for being too rash – because he is a little trigger-happy sometimes – and then he had to explain it to me how he just saved my life and he’s all surly and gruff and I feel just awful because for once he’s doing exactly what he’s supposed to, but if I say it he’ll snap back at me and…it was just a big mess all over. That was a rough day.
*What do you look like?
A cross between Matt Smith and Mike Donehey – or so people tell me. (And yes, I play guitar, but not exceptionally well.)