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Characters Confess

When I am struggling with my characters, there are two different techniques I use to get to know them. The first is pretty simple and I bet most writers have tried this: write the scene in first person in that character’s point of view. Most of the time this works for me because by writing in first person, I, in effect, become that character and start seeing things through his or her eyes. (yes, it works male or female)

But then there are those stubborn characters.  The ones who refuse to cooperate or who are so closed off you can’t figure out what they are doing. For those, I resort to character interviews, or as I more appropriately call it here, character confessions. I am like the old-time journalist who grabs hold and refuses to let go until I get the truth. Even if they get mad at me and strike back (with words only, none of my characters would hit me—if one ever did a dreadful painful death would await them.)

I’m sharing parts of these interviews from characters in THE GOOD DAUGHTER, my current romantic suspense (which got a 4.5 TOP PICK review from RT BOOK REVIEWS—squee!) to show you I’ve gone off the deep end to show you how I did it, to help you not be afraid to try it yourself.  Note: These interviews are pure stream of consciousness writing. In addition, they were done at different times; if you’ll remember my Rip and Rebuild Post then you’ll know in the revisions, I had to switch roles of the main characters. By the time I did Dave’s interview, I knew A LOT about him, I just wanted to dig a little deeper; such was not the case with Sandro. At the time of his interview, I was pretty lost in the book and had no clue how I would get everyone out alive–or if I would get everyone out alive, which is why there is so much more detail of the surroundings in Sandro’s interview. I was grasping.
confessions

***Spoiler alert***
IF you haven’t read THE GOOD DAUGHTER, some of the plot might be given away in the following interviews, but I’ll try not to give away too much.

DAVE’S INTERVIEW
I’ve just arrived at Sandro’s restaurant.  I’m supposed to be meeting Dave, who, I imagine, has a lifetime of free meals here.  I hope he’s generous enough to share so I don’t have to pony up any money.  Yes, I’m cheap. Starving artist and all that.  Nice restaurant, I think, as I’m escorted to the table.

Yes, Dave is there already.  I should have figured.

I’m not normally prompt, but I know how irritated Dave gets with tardy people, so I made a point of arriving early.  Yet, he’s already here.  Looking pretty morose.  Oughta be a fun interview.

He stands when I approach.  Hm, just realized he didn’t stand when Marisa approached the table—need to ask him why.  I introduced myself, shook his hand, nice firm grip.  He helped me sit, then I sprang it on him.

“Dave, you know you didn’t stand when Marisa approached your table at the bar, why is that?”

He looked surprised.  “I don’t know.  It was a professional meeting I suppose.”

“And what sort of meeting is this?” I asked.  “Not hardly your romantic tryst.”

“But you’re older than Marisa,” he said.

“Oh, really?”

“I mean, as an older woman you deserve more respect.”

“My foot’s not in the grave yet, sugar, but you’re digging your way deeper in.”

He sighed.  “I don’t know.  I guess she took me by surprise.  My brain temporarily stopped working.”

“Seems like your brain might have stopped working several times in your dealing with her.”

“You got that right,” he muttered.

“So tell me about that?  What made you cross outside the lines?”

“I didn’t really think I was, not at first.”

“Oh, come on.  They told you that they were going to steal Carlo’s money. While Sandro didn’t flat out tell you he was going to kill Carlo, you knew they didn’t intend on letting him walk away.”

“I thought if I helped, that I could put Carlo in jail and keep Sandro from doing something he would regret.”

I wasn’t buying it.  “Try again.”

“What?”

He didn’t do the innocent-little-boy look so well, didn’t fool me for a minute. “You know as well as I do, that Carlo could have run his business from jail.  At least until someone else got the balls to take over.  And by that time, Sandro could’ve been dead.”

“They could’ve gone into witness protection.”

“You think so?  A man who’s been pushed around for years, has his family’s life on the line once already, has decided to make his do-or-die stand and you think you can talk him into wussing out and going into hiding?”  I crossed my arms and frowned.  “Keep going.  What’s the real reason you helped break the law.”

“Okay,” He sighed.  “Carlo had Nia.”

“Still about her?  You couldn’t be her hero and you know it.  Still feel guilty over things you did in the past?  Is that why you’re so determined to save her when it’s not your fight?”

“I’m the FBI, it’s my job to rescue–”

“Sandro got her into this mess, he had a plan to get her out.  Do you think, perhaps, it’s easier to blame your actions on needing to rescue Nia, and not from a desire, no matter how small, of wanting to help Marisa?”

He glared at me. “Why would I have wanted to help Marisa?”

“Yes, why?  What is it about Marisa?  Is it that she reminds you of Nia?  Strong?  Independent?  And yet she needed you in a way Nia never did?  Vulnerable in a way that Nia never was.  She needed you. She turned to you in her time of need.  Did it mean nothing? Perhaps it was just intriguing,” I continued, warming up to the subject, “to play with the dark side, walk both sides of the line–”

“I’m not like that.”

“What are you like?  Your father?  What’s it feel like now that you crossed the line?  That you didn’t live up to your image of him.”

“Image?”

“Isn’t it all that it is?  Is anyone as good and as perfect as you have him to be?  Do you know that he is, have you asked him?  What do you think he’d say?”

“He’d be disappointed.”

“Would he?  Why?  Because he’s judging you?  If that’s the case, someone who is pointing their finger, judging you, has 3 other fingers pointing at them.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Typical dense man.  If he’s judging you, then he has something he has to hide, he has to take a superior attitude, to hide his inadequacies—or the things he’s done wrong.”

“The purpose of this conversation?”

“Why don’t you talk to your father, see if he ever made mistakes?  Talk to him about this one.”

“No.  I don’t want to know if he made mistakes.  And I don’t want him to know about this.”

“He might surprise you.  He might understand.”

“No.”

Obviously I wasn’t getting anywhere.  Why is it the smart, cute ones could be so dumb?  But if I persisted, I’d be getting into the nagging my kids say I like to do. . .

(NOTE: This goes on for a few more pages, but I have to cut it off here, or I’ll give away too much, sorry. But I ended the interview with Dave by asking: “Don’t you owe it to yourself to be honest as well?” Which will affect Dave’s choices he makes in future books.)

SANDRO’S INTERVIEW

I’m in New York, at a fancy hotel…some hotel owned by Mormons.  There are seven restaurants in this hotel. It boggles the mind of this small-town Texas girl. I’m meeting Sandro at a little open café specializing in sandwiches.  There is only a half-wall around the front—rather like gazebo walls—allowing a clear view of the comings and goings of hurried guests in the busy lobby.   I am seated in a far corner of the café, yet still, with my back to the wall, I am positioned to clearly see his approach.

Sandro has been my idol for years.  You see, I’m a soccer fanatic, and he is the greatest soccer player in the world.  This chance to interview him has my stomach lurching—at times clear up to my throat—and my hands are clammy and sweaty….and shaking.  Though I hate the things, I’ve brought a tape recorder along with me.  I have my notepad, but I don’t want to miss a thing he has to say.  And yes, there’s another reason I must admit.  I’ll have his beautiful Italian voice with its lilting accent, on tape to play over and over again.

There he is.  He’s cut his hair and grown a goatee.  Not a full one; he has it trimmed to look as if it is only a couple of day’s growth.  Definitely different from his long braided pony-tailed look he had when I first saw him.

But still sexy.  Definitely sexy.

As he walks toward me, I can tell his hazel eyes are haunted.  A hollow, desperate look.  For yes, Sandro has found himself in a desperate situation.  One that he blames himself for, and rightly so.

I stand as he approaches the table.  He takes my hand as I introduce myself.

“Do you mind?”  He indicates that he would like to sit in my chair.  I suppose with all the bad guys after him he wants to keep his back to the wall.  I can’t blame him and willingly switch chairs with him, hoping I’m not leaving myself vulnerable to a surprise attack.

A waiter approaches and takes our order.  Iced raspberry tea for me—these dad-blasted New Yorkers don’t know what a Dr. Pepper is–and a vegetarian sandwich.  Sandro orders coffee and a Monte Carlo sandwich.  I frown at all the fat calories, but then again, he keeps himself in beautiful shape, regardless.

“So, Sandro,” I say and then my mind goes blank.  Totally, stupidly blank.  I dig frantically in my brain, searching for my list of questions I thought I’d memorized.  “Sandro,” I repeat.  “It seems as if you’re in a bit of trouble.”

The waiter sets our drinks in front of us and Sandro snorts. “Obviously, you know this as well as I do.  You’re the one who created this monster, Carlo.”

“So, tell me how you feel about that?”

“I hate it!  Why couldn’t you leave us alone!  I’d found my most perfect woman, the other half to my lost soul.  Yet you have ripped her away from me.  I won’t stand it!”  He slammed his hand on the table and his coffee sloshed over the side of his cup into the plate underneath.

I jumped from the sudden violent act.  He had always appeared such a calm, humble man.  A practicing Buddhist.

“But. .b. .but Sandro,” I stammer.  “I had to do it.  It’s the damn market.  A straight romance with a soccer hero and heroine just will not fly in New York.  You know this city.  Better than I do.”

“If you had left me alone, I would not have had to know New York. I could be happily living in Italy on my farm, growing my grapes when I wasn’t playing soccer.”

“But no problems makes life so dull, don’t you think?”   I tried to lighten the tone, but he only glowered.

“If I wasn’t such a gentleman, I would tell you what I really think.”

My own temper was rising.  I had the makings of a best seller, damn it, and he was screwing it up with his uncooperative attitude.  “Hey, buddy, don’t let that stop you. “  Yeah, there my mouth was going again like it does when I get pissed.  I never know when to back off.

He leaned over the table.  “You put my wife’s life on the line for what?  To sell a book?  Money?”

“And what is it you do week after week?  Kick a little ball around for money?  It’s a living, isn’t it?  We all have to make a living.”

“Kicking a ball around does not endanger the woman I love.”

“No, it just makes you lose your honor when you aren’t man enough to stand up to a mob boss, doesn’t it?”

“That is your fault!  You created him.”

“Only because I thought you were man enough to handle him.  How was I supposed to know you’d lose your nerve and miss that goal?”

“He threatened my family.  He threatened her family.  Did you want me to win for my country and let her lose a family member?  Which one would you choose to die?”

He had me there.  I frowned.  “Okay, so maybe you had no choice there.  What about the next time?  You left a brilliant career in Italy behind and came to the US.  American soccer is not on the level of Italian soccer.”

Sandro leaned back and rubbed his hands through his hair.  He seemed puzzled for a moment, as if wondering where all his long locks had disappeared to.  “My career in Italy was over.”

The waiter brought our sandwiches and left, but we both left them untouched as Sandro continued.   “Carlo got to every manager on every team I traded to. I was losing my skills anyway, just sitting on the bench.  As time goes on and more international players come to America, the game will improve here.”

“That’s all well and good, Sandro, but we’re getting off the subject here.  What about your wife?  What are you going to do about her?”

“I have a plan.”

“That’s all?  I have a plan?  I need to know what that plan is, damn it.” Yes, it would help to know the plan so I could write it! “I need to know that you’re man enough to pull it off.” I challenged, hoping to provoke him into spilling what he had in mind.

A muscle in his jaw ticked.  I could practically hear him grinding his teeth.  “You tell me?  Can I pull it off?”

I had no idea, what was the damned plan? I tried again. “The hero I created would have no trouble when the woman he loves life is on the line.  A woman, I might add, that I created too, and if not for me, you would have never had.”

“I can save her.”

“You sound so sure of yourself.”

His eyes narrowed.  “You don’t believe me?”

“So far you aren’t even acting as if you’re worried.  You don’t even act afraid for her.  I know as well as anyone that she’s fearless, but these are pretty hefty odds she’s up against.”

“Perhaps I keep all my emotions inside.”

“Geez, Sandro!  You’re Italian.  You’re not supposed to keep your emotions inside.  I need them out in the open so everyone will know you care.”

“I do not need to be entertainment for everyone.”

“Now that’s where you’re wrong.  You chose this business, buddy, you set yourself up to have millions of people watch you every week.  Now, they want to know how you’re going to handle this latest disaster.  For you, it’s all well and good that you are being the strong, silent type, but for me, it’s been hell.  How can I let people know how desperately you love Nia if you don’t trust me enough to share with me?  There’s no assurances she’ll come out of this alive.”

His face grew red.  “There are assurances, you like happy endings.  She told me so.”

“Hey, buddy, this is a mainstream.  Happy endings are not a given.”

He grabbed my hand and squeezed.  “Don’t kill her.”

I cringed from the pain. “It won’t be me,” I gasped. “If she dies, it will be your fault.  For not being man enough to save her.”

“No!” he yelled, drawing attention from other diners.  He threw my hand away from him, as if it were something dirty stuck in the cleats on his soccer boots.

I was beginning to regret this, beginning to want to slink down under the table and hide.

“Mikey’s dead,” I said.  “I didn’t plan on him dying, yet now he’s dead.”

“Who’s Mikey?”

“The guy you took the gun off outside your restaurant.  He got in the car and his friends whacked him.”

“Why should I care about this?”

“He beat up Nia.”

Sandro reached across the small table and grabbed my shirt and twisted it.  He lifted me from my chair.  His face was a terrible thing to behold.  “You let him beat her up?”

I held up my hands.  “It wasn’t my idea, I swear.  He just did it.  That’s why he was killed.  He never could follow orders.”

He dropped me back into my chair.  “If Carlo killed him, then he doesn’t want her harmed.  Perhaps Marisa is right,” he mused.

“Don’t you go believing that,” I told him, wanting to shake him.  “Carlo’s keeping her alive just to get to you.  When he gets you, you’ll both be dead, you know that.  And then what will happen to little Danny?  If you don’t care enough about Nia, then don’t you care about Danny?”

“To protect them is why I ran in the first place.”

“And it didn’t work.  Now you have to do something else.”

He dropped his head into his hands.  “I’m so scared,” he admitted.  “One step wrong and I will lose everything.”  His voice was thick with tears.

I laid my hand on his head, surprised at how coarse his hair felt, must be the curls.  “It’s okay to be afraid,” I said.  “It’s human.  What moves you beyond human to heroic is to accept your fear and save her anyway.  That’s what I need from you, a little heroism.”

He looked up, his hazel eyes watery.  “Who are you to talk of heroism,” he said.  “You who are afraid of what the world thinks, afraid to write what you really feel.”

Oh, that was a low blow.  “You sorry [expletive deleted],” I spat.

“What was it you were telling me about a true hero?  Accept your fears and act anyway.”

[Expletive deleted].  It’s hell having your words thrown back at you by a figment of your imagination.

Did I learn anything? Aside from stretching creative muscles, yes, I learned quite a bit. I learned I let fears hold me back, and often that was my problem when I got stuck. And of course, I was right to have those fears. I knew this book was different–and New York wouldn’t touch the book; to sum it up, they had no idea what to do with it. And yet, it’s getting good reviews, and the RT BOOK REVIEW was a dream come true. (I wrote about how my dream came true HERE: Note though, THE GOOD DAUGHTER is not a book for everyone—it IS a Mafia book, and Mafia guys don’t say fiddlesticks.)

Now, how about you? Have you tried character interviews? Have they helped you? If you haven’t tried, are you willing?

THE GOOD DAUGHTER  is currently available on Amazon and will soon be available in all venues, including print. Stay tuned for an announcement regarding THE GOOD DAUGHTER and my next romantic suspense book, my Golden Heart® final, TRUST NO ONE. To learn more about me and keep up with what I’m writing next, please visit my website.

26 responses to “Characters Confess”

  1. Gillian says:

    Congrats on the book review!!

    I haven’t tried this but may tonight…some characters are so secretive. 🙂

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    • Diana Layne says:

      Hi, Gillian,

      Thanks! Honestly, the first time I tried a character interview I felt so stupid, lol, but then I realized it was just another way to stretch creative muscles. Good luck if you try it!

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  2. Alicia Dean says:

    Love this, Diana! Not only do your characters talk to you…you talk back. I’ve toyed with trying this, but never have. Now that I know you didn’t mind feeling like a lunatic, maybe I’ll be brave enough to do it.

    I’m like you, I write my first draft in first person to get to know the character, and to hopefully convey their emotions, and to show not tell.

    However, I’ve found I really don’t thoroughly know my characters until I am telling their story. I learn more about them as I go along. No matter what kind of pre-prep I try to do, they don’t really come alive for me until I’m into the book. I can’t even say how far into the book because with each story, each character, it’s different. Some take longer than others.

    Anyway, thanks for a wonderful post and a fabulous tip. I’m almost finished with The Good Daughter…loving it!

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  3. That was fun. Thanks for the tips. And congrats on the wonderful review.

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  4. I have tried this, di, but had nothing like the success you did. My gang tends to arrive pretty much baggage in hand, but that doesn’t mean they open those bags right away. Some of them are like that person who, five minutes after you meet them, you know everything from their shoe size to their dog’s bathroom habits. Others act like they were labeled Top Secret at birth.

    It’s a crap shoot!

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    • Diana Layne says:

      Gwyn, girl! I was against a wall. With Sandro’s interview, I was halfway through the first draft of a book, the characters were in a major jam and I had no idea how they were going to get out. I was desperate. When I did Dave’s interview, the book was finished, but I was giving him a much bigger role so I needed to know more–although I already knew a lot about him. I could never do this at the beginning of a book, I have to get to know them (and they me) first. But desperate times call for desperate measures and usually at some point in every book, I’m desperate! LOL

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  5. How fun! I’ve tried doing character interviews before and it’s hard for me. I think I have trouble just letting go and seeing where things like this take me. Maybe I just want absolute control over my characters so I refuse to let them surprise me! 🙂

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    • Diana Layne says:

      This is where you have to be willing to embrace your schizophrenic side. And no disrespect to schizophrenic, but basically you are talking to and answering yourself. It’s bizarre, embarrassing and I can’t believe I shared this…now everyone knows I answer myself when I ask myself a question!

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  6. Amanda Brice says:

    Wow, what fun, Diana!

    And i’m with Cynthia…I tend to be way too Type A and insistent upon controlling my characters. I’ve tried this and it was a giant flop. But this most recent book I just turned in I decided to throw caution to the wind and embrace my inner pantser (who I didn’t know I had in me since I’m such a confimed plotter). I didn’t pants my way through the book — I still had all my plot points worked out ahead of time — but I have myself a lot more freedom to play around, and I liked the results! So I don’t know…maybe if I tried an interview today it would be a completely different story!

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    • Diana Layne says:

      You know, normally I am pretty type A controlling too, and even now I like plot points and heck, I even like my scene sentences, but I’d been playing with parts of this story in my mind for years and one day I just sat down and started typing (usually I write by hand) to see what happened. It just flowed until bam…brick wall. Fiddlesticks, now what? At the time one of my critique partners, Linda Castillo, said she’d started using character interviews and I thought why not try it? So you never know, it seems different books require different things.

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  7. Hope Ramsay says:

    Congrats on the great review.

    I have not tried this. But then I chart and graph my characters and spend lots and lots of time thinking about them before I ever put fingers on keyboard. But this is an interesting technique I’m going stick in my bag of tools in case I ever get stuck.

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  8. Interesting, Diana. I do a character SURVEY rather than an interview before I write. It’s a similar concept, but I ask myself questions as to how my characters would react in certain types of situations, what choices they might make, and how they feel about controversial things. I also build a backstory for each of them at the same time that supports the answers.

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    • Diana Layne says:

      I have to write a few chapters before I can begin to learn about the characters. I might have an idea in mind, even have my scene sentences but often the characters change it. Your method works quite well for you, having just read The Memory of You, so stick with what works!

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  9. Congrats, agin, on the review. The interview was such fun reading. I now know your characters even better.

    I interview too. I love popping the cork on a bottle and interviewing my characters. I fell in love with Victor, the villain in ‘His Witness To Evil’. I’ll never forget. We were sitting next to a fire. It was cold outside, blistery, wind howling. His dark eyes reflecting the dance of the flames. And he spilled his guts to me. It was magical.

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  10. Tia Ramirez says:

    This is just what I needed! I have these characters in my head that just wont shut up, but when I try to figure them out, they clam up. This will make it so much easier to get to know them 🙂

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  11. Elisa Beatty says:

    This is such a brilliant thing to do, Diana!!

    I definitely want to try it with my villains!

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    • Diana Layne says:

      Oooh, now villains, you’re braver than me. I’m not sure I want to get that close and personal with them…although, it could be fun (if I could bring my gun with me) LOL

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  12. jbrayweber says:

    I’ve not done this before, Diana. But it sounds like a very interesting way to get personal with characters.

    And CONGRATS on the awesome review!
    Jenn!

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  13. Iraqi Dinar says:

    hello!,I like your writing very so much! percentage we keep up a correspondence extra about your article on AOL? I require a specialist in this area to solve my problem. May be that is you! Looking ahead to see you.

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