Monday, January 15, 2007

A Question on Interviewing Characters: What if You Come Up With A Psychopath?

Interviewing Characters in Fiction WritingI received this email this morning and thought it was a very good question in interviewing a particular kind of character:

"One of your interviewing questions for characters is "Describe something really bad you once did..." How would one answer that from a psychopathic personality point of view? Since guilt is not in their make-up. What would be another way to draw this out?"

My response: Hi Diana,
Interesting question... I think what I would do in interviewing such a person would be to first show interest in his/her activities, crimes... get him/her talking about them, really opening up, and all the time you, as the interviewer, must show sympathy and support. Look for openings that could lead to memories that reveal how the person was treated as a child...

I think the key is for you to be a really good empathiser and, at the same time, read between the lines. As soon as you sense some emotional hurt coming through...
perhaps through an outburst of anger, show a lot of sympathy and say, "Yes, that must have been very difficult for you." Or "Wow, I can understand how that could have made you really, really mad... Do you remember how you felt when that bad person did that to you..."

In effect, you are leading the witness...
trying to find a way through a mirror of the character's emotions, even if the character doesn't consciously feel what is going on...

Also, the character most likely wasn't born a psychopath... so lead them back and back to earlier times until you get to a point where the wounding was felt.

Hope this is helpful.
Good luck!

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  1. Was musing about my character this morning. I just write a series of stories in my blog and have no idea why. But I was thinking that Etta, the woman I seem to come back to, needs to reveal why she is what she is. I had not thought of the interview in relationship to fiction. Can you tell I shoot from the hip/do not have a plan?

    I am book marking this site for future reference. Thank you.



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