Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Character Interview Questions

Ugh. Cold morphed into sinus crud. I'm just about over it now, but it really set me back. No writing accomplished. So instead, I've been playing with this wonderful character interview questionnaire that Suzette Saxton shared on the QueryTracker.net blog. My writing pal Ian Healy did this with one of his characters with fantastic answers which were fun to read.

Just quickly scanning this list, I realize that even though I've been living with this character (her name is Mist, and she's the main character for my current WIP, "Firemage") for a long time, I have huge gaps in my knowledge of her. I could barely answer any of these questions. This is an absolutely great set of questions for making you really think about your fictional people. I was stumped on many of them, and really had to think a while!

**Note** I've slightly tweaked some of the questions to reflect my character's fantasy world**

Character Interview Questions

Note: These questions can be answered in first or third person; however, answering them in first person will help you nail your character’s voice (even if your story is written in third person.)

1. How old are you?

Eleven, the same age as Brig, my foster sister. She was born a few hours before me. Our birthday is in the summer, just a couple months away. Cook will make Brig and the rest of the kitchen slaves raisin cakes soaked in milk. If I stay out of trouble for the entire day, I'll get a taste.

2. If your master's palace burned down, what one thing would you want to take with you?

I have this prayer necklace. It's not worth anything, which is the only reason I'm allowed to keep it. It was my mother's, the only thing I have of hers, and I've had it forever. I'm not even sure how it came to me. It has these wood beads strung on a silk cord that have little flames carved on them. My mom was from Amadras. Jena told me the flames are the symbol of Rhamad, God of Fire. Someone painted them gold, but most of the color is chipped off now. But I love it. I keep it in a basket by my bed, and someday I'd like to paint it again.

3. Describe your hands.

I hate my hands. They're always chapped, and the skin across my knuckles is flaky and cracked. Right now there's little black lines of coal dust deep underneath my nails, but later on I'll be back at the pots again, and they'll be bright red and stinging from the wash soap.

4. Describe where you sleep.

In the slave quarters, just off the kitchen complex. Boys and girls are kept separate. The girl's dorms aren't too bad. Master Doro gives us straw mats to sleep on. I've heard other masters make their slaves sleep right on the tile floor. He even lets us use old rugs that are frayed or torn. These keep the straws from poking too much. My mat is next to Jena and Brig. I have a little basket Jena showed me how to weave that holds my mother's necklace and a couple of rocks and bits of wood that I collect. Maybe someday I can make them into beads.

5. What is your favorite food?

Jena makes this lamb stew, with potatoes and onions and garlic. It's a favorite of the Master's and sometimes, when no one is looking I sneak a taste. If Jena catches me, she raps my knuckles with a wooden spoon. Meat is too expensive to waste on slaves.

6. Describe your economic/political status.

I'm a slave. I do what Kamelah, Jena and Master Doro tell me.

7. Where do you have a scar or birthmark? Describe circumstances surrounding your scars.

Jena is quick with her hands, but she doesn't believe in whipping. Neither does Cook. I've been lucky so far, and all my punishments haven't left permanent marks. Just bruises. I bruise really easily and it shows up for days on my skin, because it's this yucky pale white. But the new Overseer, Kamelah... she carries a dog whip at all times, and I'd do just about anything to keep out of her way.

8. What is the last book you read? What did you think of it?

I can't read, and they don't teach kitchen slaves how. I don't have time to read, anyway.

9. Do you have an embarrassing habit?

I like to sing, but Brig says that when I do, I croak like a Lenosan rock toad. The others agree. I never sing in front of anyone anymore.

10. Give one vivid memory of a parent or parental figure.

I don't have any. My mother died when I was born, and no one knows who my father is.

11. What is a dream (in sleep) you often have?

There's this dream where Jena, or Cook, or Kamelah send me on an errand in the palace. I've never been beyond the kitchen complex, and I get lost. The Master doesn't want to see me, and I'm afraid that every turn I take, he'll be waiting around the corner. Then as I'm walking, the halls are filling up with all the Master's guests, and soon it's a great crowd. I try to slip out, but there are too many people, and I fight to get away, but I'm too small, and I have to keep going with them. No one seems to hear me. They sweep me into this large empty room, where the master waits. On good nights, I wake up before he can rise from his chair. On bad nights, I wake up screaming as he punishes me.

12. Do you have a lifelong dream or aspiration?

Slaves don't have dreams. But I wish I could learn to cook. I'm tired of scrubbing and running coal. Jena's already showing Brig how to make simple stews and soups. I watch and recite all the recipes to myself. Brig can't ever keep anything straight in her head, and is always messing up, which is really frustrating, because I know I could do a better job! Sometimes I help her even though she doesn't appreciate it. It's the only way I get to practice.

13. How do you go to sleep, and how do you wake up? (i.e. position in bed, etc.)

We're up at dawn and most days we don't get to bed until after midnight. I usually stumble over to my mat and pass out.

14. What is the last thing you wrote?

I can't write. But if I stay out of trouble, sometimes Jena lets me have a little bit of henna for my feet and teaches me and Brig how to draw curly flowers and patterns on our skin. Brig is really good at the patterns, but I'm always messing mine up. Jena doesn't do this too often because she only can go down to the market on her one half day off a month. She gets five bronze pieces a month if she's pleased Kamelah and Cook, and the packet of ground henna costs almost all of it. She uses half of it on Brig's hair.

15. What grosses you out?

I don't like watching Cook prepare the little white pigeons that Master is so fond of. They're considered a delicacy, and Cook leaves their heads on and buries their faces in the rice stuffing. I hate looking at them. They make me sad and sick to my stomach.

16. Who is the person you like the least? Why?

Brig. She's so full of herself and is always mean to me.

17. Tell me about the last time you cried.

Yesterday. I dropped a serving platter I was washing, and it shattered. Cook boxed my ears. They rang for hours.

18. What is something you feel guilty about?

The other day I was helping plate up dinner, and we were all in such a hurry, I accidentally knocked a couple of slices of pork roast onto the floor, and they had gunk on them. No one saw so I brushed them off and sent them out anyway. If Kamelah or Jena had seen that I would have been punished for sure.

19. Describe what you do when you look in a mirror.

We don't have any mirrors in the kitchens or the dorms. Sometimes I catch my reflection in the wash basin. I usually ripple the water so I don't have to see. I hate the way I look. If I looked normal, like Brig, then Master wouldn't hate me.

20. Describe yourself sitting in your favorite spot.

The coal bin is right behind the bake house. I like to climb up on the bake house roof. The tiles are always warmed from the ovens inside, and it's just high enough that I can see past the palace walls and see the city, and the Coliseum where the mages duel. It's really windy, sometimes the wind stings because it blows so hard. You can practically see the whole island from there.

21. Tell me about a very treasured item.

I already did. My mother's prayer necklace.

22. Do you have a nervous tic or habit?

When I'm worried, or nervous, or in trouble I hunch my shoulders and duck my head behind my hair.

23. Tell me about your siblings…if you have them.

I don't have any. Well, Brig is my foster sister, but we're not really sisters. We don't get along. Brig thinks I'm freakish looking, and she hates that her mother is responsible for me. She also think she knows more than me, and is always telling me what to do. She's always been pretty, and she knows it. But she thinks she's more beautiful than she is, and she and Jena hope she'll catch the eye of the Master or one of his guests and be a concubine some day. My mother was a concubine, and I think that bothers Brig, like, she's weirdly jealous about it. Not like she has to worry. No one would ever make me a concubine.

24. What is your favorite sound?

Sometimes when I'm up on the bake house roof, the wind carries the cheers and roars of the crowd from the Coliseum. I can't explain it, but it's just sounds so exciting. I wish I could go see the mage duels some day.

25. What is your favorite smell?

When it's time for Cook to go out into the city, she always rubs a cone of sandalwood on her neck and wrists. I can't wait until I'm old enough to have a half day, and get my first bronze pieces. I'm going to buy sandalwood, and paint for my mother's beads.


  1. What a fantastic interview! I love the kind of questions that say a lot about a character even though they can't answer them - like "What is the last book you read?" It tells me so much about your character's background when she answers that she can't read.

  2. Wasn't that post by Suzette fantastic? Yes, yes it was. And you really know your character! Great job answering these questions.

  3. Okay, I stole those questions for my own selfish uses! Really great idea to flesh out critters. And hey, I started a writing blog...stop by and nag at your whimsy! :D


  4. @Suzette & Elana - Thanks! Yes, totally fabulous questions. This really did help me with my character. :D I'll definitely be doing it again!

    @CGriffin - Yes, steal and pass along! And I'm so happy you started your own blog. I've added you to my reading list and already left you a comment. :)