Have you ever interviewed your characters? I tried this recently, and learned a few things about the hero in my WIP. Oh, I'd already done the usual character sheets, and five defining events in his life and all that pre-planning stuff. I thought I knew him really well. Then I decided to interview him, using some questions I'd gotten in a workshop.
Here's the short pitch for the book, Redemption: A pandemic vaccine has left human blood poisonous to vampires, and the vampire world is fighting to protect its way of life. Immune at first is Penton, a small ghost town in the South repopulated by peace-loving master vampire Aidan Murphy, his scathe of vampires, and their unvaccinated, willingly bonded human familiars. His community is shattered by a series of brutal attacks perpetrated by his hated brother Owen and the Vampire Tribunal, and he's forced to take a human doctor hostage in order to have medical care for his people. He doesn't know that he, and his damaged heart, will be the one Dr. Krystal Harris tries to save.
And here's my interview with Aidan:
Aidan arrives on time, greets me briskly, then plonks himself in a chair on the other side of my desk and stares at me in silence. He isn't going to make this easy. I sigh, and dig out my questions.
What are you most ashamed of?
Damn, you don't waste time with the small talk, do you? I'm ashamed of what I am. There, is that what you want to hear? I don't want to be a bloody monster. I want to be a man, a husband, a father. I want to be who I was before I was turned into a predator. I'm ashamed that I can't get past it and move on, that I can't just accept what I am and be happy.
What are you most afraid of?
Getting someone else I love killed. Nuff said.
What beliefs would you die for?
I'd die before I let anyone else I love get hurt, but we don't usually get that chance, do we? They always get hurt. It's better just not to love.
What three things do you value most?
Things I haven't already lost? 'Cause otherwise it would have been my wife Abby and son Cavan, and my life in Ireland. But that's long gone--all of it. Now, I guess I'd say Penton and the life I've built there for my people. My friendships with Mirren and Will and Hannah. My human familiars, Mark and Melissa. It's the people who matter, not the things.
What emotional pain are you afraid to express?
Shit, if I'm afraid to express it, what makes you think I want to, like, EXPRESS it? Good God, woman. (I sit and stare at him.) Fine. Whatever. I don't like to talk about losing Abby, okay? It's not the anger at Owen, it's the anger at myself for second-guessing my decision to let her die. I can't forgive myself for it. (Clams up and gives me what his familiar Melissa calls his Irish pig-farmer stare.)
What do you do for a living and why?
I'm a master vampire. That's pretty much what I do for a living. I have a scathe of 75 vampires and 125 humans, and through money I've made over the years in investments I've bought up all of a virtually abandoned mill town in rural Alabama. We all live together there. I guess I'm the mayor (chuckles). The Mayor of Penton.
What makes you vulnerable?
(Sits a long time and stares at the floor.) Getting emotionally involved. I have people I care about, but Mirren's the only one who really knows me well. Krystal Harris is pushing all of my buttons, I have to tell you. She's breaking through some walls I've spent a long time building up, and I'm not liking it. Couldn't you have gotten me a male doctor to kidnap?
What kind of family do you come from?
My human family was a simple Irish farm family in County Cork, Ireland, but I've been in America for more than 300 years. My human brother, Owen, was turned vampire at the same time as me. He is NOT my family, you got that? He lost that right a long time ago. My family now are my lieutenants--Mirren, Will, and Hannah, and my fam Melissa and her husband Mark.
What are three defining moments from your past that have made you who you are today?
Well, that's pretty damned easy, yes? When I was made vampire. When I chose to let my wife die rather than be turned into a monster like me. When I took on responsibility for this scathe and moved it to Penton.
Do you have any unusual skills or talents?
I always worked the soil, and it's still what I do. Sounds pretty damned stupid, but I have a greenhouse that I putter in at night--mostly growing night-blooming flowers. It still makes me feel a part of the world of sunlight. Shit, that's pathetic.
In what ways do you label yourself?
I'm a predator, always fighting to keep the monster inside under control. I hurt the people I love. I don't feed from the same people I have sex with--that's an intimacy I just don't do. It's better for everybody that way.
What's the one thing you regret most?
That I didn't kill my brother Owen when I had the chance.
What is the one thing you desire most?
Peace. As normal a life as I can have. Making a good place for my people to live. Doesn't look like that's happening, does it? I'm outta here. (Stalks out of the room.)
What I learned about Aidan from this is how angry he is. I knew he was frustrated and tortured, but not how deep the anger went. As I revise now, I'm working more of than anger into his scenes.
How about you? How do you get into your characters' heads? Have you tried the interview? If you're a reader but not a writer, do you really enjoy getting into a character's head?