Today I will focus on an important element of good fiction writing: creating compelling characters!
In order to hold a readers attention, writers need strong, interesting characters. A well-developed character has strengths, weaknesses, secrets, fears, goals, dreams, hobbies, obsessions, and even little quirks. This can be accomplished in so many ways! One of my favorite ways to develop a character is to write a character interview. I’ve done that for a character in Roland West, Loner, Peter Brandt, Roland’s new friend. You can read it here.
And I’ve interviewed Caitlyn Summer in Life-Changing Love:
Character interview of soon-to-be fifteen-year-old Caitlyn Summer, conducted by author Theresa Linden. This interview took place at Caitlyn’s house before the camping trip. (You can read the interview below or on my website)
Smiling and giddy, Caitlyn hangs up the old phone on the kitchen wall. Her big green eyes swivel to the dining room and latch onto me. Her smile shrinks a bit, but the news she received from the phone call must’ve really made her day because it seems like she can’t stop smiling.
I smile back. Mrs. Summer has been kind enough to invite me into her home for this interview, so I’m sipping hot Constant Comment tea at the dining room table. Stacks of laundry sit on one end of the table. A plate of chocolate chip cookies sits before me, but the long red hair sticking out of the cookie on top keeps me from taking one.
Mrs. Summer carries baby Andy and an armful of fresh laundry as she cruises through the little house, heading toward the bedrooms. A spring-fresh scent trails behind her. As she passes Caitlyn, she says, “Oh, Caitlyn, you have a guest. Mrs. Linden would like to speak with you for a moment.” Mrs. Summer glances at me and smiles. Then she rounds the corner and disappears, leaving Caitlyn and me alone.
“Oh.” Caitlyn gives me a sort of deer-in-the headlights look. Her eyes are so round and sparkling green, a nice contrast to her long red tresses. I wonder if I’ve captured them right in my stories.
“Care to join me at the table?” I say. “I’d like to ask you a few questions.”
“Oh,” she says again, glancing to either side. The house is relatively quiet, but her younger sisters and brother are laughing and talking in the backyard.
Caitlyn runs a hand through her hair, wipes the front of her skirt then approaches with slow steps. “Are you from River Run High? I was supposed to meet with a counselor sometime this year. To talk about my future plans, I guess.” She tugs a chair back and eases herself into it. “Is that who you are, a counselor?”
“Um, no.” I wonder if it will freak her out to hear the truth. “I’m an author. And I just wanted to ask you a few questions.”
“Oh.” She’s studying me now, making me feel like I should’ve put on something a bit nicer than sweatpants and my favorite ratty jacket with the burn hole in the sleeve. “So, what do you write?”
“Different things. I wrote a dystopian trilogy, and I also write Christian fiction for teens.”
“That sounds interesting.” She grabs a cookie, takes a bite, and makes a face. Now she’s pulling a hair from her mouth. “What did you want to talk to me about?” she says with her mouth full. She shoves the rest of her cookie under the edge of the plate.
“Well, I wanted my readers to get to know you a little better. So if you don’t mind . . .” I’m talking quickly now, hoping she won’t get paranoid like Peter had done when I’d interviewed him. “I have just a few questions. First of all, I noticed that you seemed very happy after getting off the phone. Care to share why?”
Her smile returns and her eyes light up like two emeralds under a jeweler’s lamp.
I briefly wonder if my mental description of her eyes is too flowery.
“Oh,” she says, “that was my friend Peter. He finally got back to me about a camping trip we’re going on.” She dips her head and a tangle of red curls falls in her face. “I was hoping that Roland . . . a, uh, a new friend of ours was coming.”
“So, I guess he is then? Roland’s going camping?”
Still smiling, she pushes the hair from her face, twirls a red curl around her finger, and nods.
“Would you tell me a bit about Roland?”
“He’s new to River Run High, and we recently became friends.” Her smile wavers. “I really like him, but he’s very shy.”
“Is that a problem? That he’s shy? I think that’s great that you’re willing to reach out to a shy kid, especially someone new to your school.”
“No, I like that he’s shy.” Caitlyn glances over her shoulder in the direction of the hallway that leads to the bedrooms. “It’s just that, well, he’s so different from everyone else, and I really like him.” She stresses the word ‘really’ and gives me a serious look.
“Oh.” I nod. “Like a boyfriend.”
Her eyes pop open and she spins her head to peer over her shoulder. Then she faces me again and whispers, “No, I can’t have a boyfriend. When I’m older, my parents want me to practice courtship.”
“Oh, so what about now? You can’t see boys?”
She shrugs. “I can see them in groups. Which is why I’m glad he’s going camping.” Her smile comes back and she reaches absentmindedly for a stack of t-shirts, part of the folded laundry Mrs. Summer had left on the end of the table. “You see, we’re friends already. So I was hoping we . . .”
The stack of t-shirts slips off the table. Caitlyn twists and whisks both arms out, trying to catch them, but it’s too late. Mumbling, she leans and ducks under the table. Something bangs and she says, “Ouch.” A few seconds later she pops up with a sloppy pile of shirts and a weak smile.
“I just was hoping we could get to know each other better, you know, get closer without actually dating.” She stands and carries the shirts to the kitchen bar counter. “Though, I don’t know what I’d do if he really liked me, too.” She places the messy pile onto the cluttered countertop and folds one of the shirts. “I mean, I don’t know why he would, but . . .” She sets the folded shirt next to the messy pile and grabs another shirt.
“Why wouldn’t he like you too?”
“I don’t know. Some girls seem to have it all. They’re pretty and comfortable around boys . . .” She’s not even looking at me now. She’s folding shirt after shirt and putting them in a new stack, but the stack keeps inching back. “My best friend tells me I’m cute, but I don’t feel cute. And I’m certainly not pretty. Or hot.”
I find that I’m gripping my teacup, worried about that moving stack of folded shirts. It seems too close to a pretty glass pitcher—
The crashing sound of glass on a tile floor shudders through me. Caitlyn shrieks then stands frozen.
I get up to help.
Before I get around the table, Caitlyn shoves her hands into her tangled red hair and groans. “Oh, who am I kidding? The new rules won’t matter. I’m not even girlfriend material. I’m a clumsy mess!”
I’m not sure whether to clean up the broken glass or to comfort Caitlyn first. “I think every girl your age—”
“What was that?” Mrs. Summer flies onto the scene. She no longer carries Andy. Her round eyes shift this way and that, her gaze darting all over the kitchen and dining room. “Are you okay? What broke?” She looks at me. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Liden . . .”
“Linden,” I correct. But I understand what the look and tone of voice mean. The interview is over, and it’s time for me to go.
If you’ve read to the end, thanks! I hope you enjoyed the interview!