{Guest Post} A character interview: Figuring out what your characters want by Michel Sauret

A character interview: Figuring out what your characters want 
by Michel Sauret 

Amazon.com: Paperback | Kindle Edition
When I was studying at Fiction writing at Pitt, I had a professor, Jeff Martin, who had us do a really clever exercise. He gave us the assignment to interview one of our characters. He said that sometimes to figure out what our characters want, we have to have a conversation with them and ask them directly. I thought this idea was both crazy and brilliant. I ended up doing an interview with Lena Ralin, who is a character in a novel I began writing while in Iraq and I recently decided to return to writing.

Recently I was going through my notes to get back into writing the novel when I came across the interview I did with Lena. I figured I might share with you all.

A bit of context: The novel is titled “Jump” and it’s about a young man who grows up in a fundamentalist, strict Christian home and eventually decides to go on a journey of faith. Lena is a girl he meets in college at the University of Pittsburgh.


Michel: “I know a little bit about you, but there’s something I’m trying to figure out.”

Lena: “Go ahead. I’m ready.”

M: “I’m not sure that you are. I think you’ll get defensive.”

L: “I wont.”

M: “Why don’t you have any girlfriends?”

L: “Guys are easier to get along with. We can laugh together. Go out and have fun.”

M: “By fun, you mean go to the bars and do body shots? What were you thinking with Christopher. You know he’s fragile. You know he’s one of my guys.”

L: “I like Christopher. He’s sweet. He’s, I don’t know… gentle. I like to know that I can have an influence on him.”

M: “But that’s what I mean. When you say ‘influence’ what I really hear is ‘seduce’ him.”

L: “Well that’s the name you picked for me, isn’t it? Lena. It means ‘temptress.’”

M: “Yeah, I know and…”

L: “And it disturbs you?”

M: “Yes.”

L: “Why?”

M: “Wait a minute, wait a minute. I’m the one who’s supposed to figure you out. I’m the one who should ask the questions. But I guess that’s how you are. You like to take control. Take hold of people. That’s why you like being around guys. You like to take hold of them. Influence. Seduce.”

L: “You think of me as easy.”

M: “Yes. And I don’t want to. I want you to be a sweet girl. Christopher likes you, but you put him off. And besides, you’re a Christian.”

L: “Just because I’m a Christian it doesn’t mean I can’t experience life. It doesn’t mean I can’t love and party.”

M: “Well, yeah. It does. It means you give your life to Christ and submit to God.”

L: “That’s the problem with you fundamentalists. You and your conservative, dead churches without any music.”

M: “We have music. We sing.”

L: “No instruments. That’s why I like my church. It puts me on stage. In front of people. It gets us to live and enjoy life. Enjoy the music and the sound. The drums. That’s worship to me.”

M: “I’m not going to get into a theological discussion of worship. I’m just trying to figure out who you are.”

L: “Listen. I slept with a guy only once, and the only reason I told Chris is because I wanted him to know we’re all vulnerable, not because I thought it was okay.”

M: “Then what happened up on the cathedral?”

L: “That was a misunderstanding. I took him up on the thirty-fourth floor, out on the ledge because I wanted him to see Oakland from up there. I wanted him to see the city alive after the Steelers won the Superbowl.”

M: “And what did he think?”

L: “That I brought him up there to try something. You know. Make a move. I wouldn’t have minded a kiss, but that’s not what I was doing.”

M: “You know you scared him, right?”

L: “I know.”

M: “And then he ran off.”

L: “Can we talk about me? I don’t know why Chris took off. He did it to go find God from what he told me. I thought this was an interview so you could figure me out.”

M: “Alright. Fair enough. When was the first time you experienced death?”

L: “In Oakland actually. My freshman year. I never had a close relative die in the family, really. So this was pretty much the first.”

M: “What happened?”

L: “I saw a guy jump. I was walking on the bridge by Phipps. And a guy jumped off the bridge. But it wasn’t like you see it on camera, where the guy is far away and you’re below, or you’re right there with him talking him down. I didn’t even have a chance. At first I thought it was a stunt. This guy passes me on his bike. Whizzes right past me. He stands on his pedals, holds open his arms, and jumped over. His bike didn’t even stop until it crashed into a pole. I didn’t know what to think. I didn’t know what to do. I just stared for a moment. There was nobody else around. Then I looked over to see if the guy had parachuted his way into the air, but his body was gone among the trees. I couldn’t see him.”

M: “Did you call somebody? The police?”

L: “No.”

M: “How come.”

L: “I didn’t know how it was possible for a guy to embrace death like that. Not that he was just okay with it, but he was rushing toward it at full speed. It was acrobatic. Like he’d put on a show for God just before going over.”

M: “Do you think he went to Heaven?”

L: “I guess so. I don’t know. I’m not God. I don’t like thinking of people going to hell. I don’t know why he did it. I don’t know why he chose to do it when I was there. I never even talked about it to anyone for a few weeks. The police found him a couple days later. It was the weekend. Nobody reported him missing until Monday. And I felt guilty for that, because they could have found his body a lot quicker if I had said something?”

M: “And the bike?”

L: “Some random guy killed himself in front of me and you ask me about his bike?”

M: “I thought maybe it would mean something to you. The way is just went on rolling without the rider and then crashed.”

L: “It looked like a ghost was riding it. That was probably the worst. I didn’t really want to say that. I didn’t want to tell you how the bike was the worst part. The way it moved without anybody there. It made me question God. Not because of the senselessness of this death, but it made me wonder if maybe this world is a bike without a rider. People say God is watching, he’s moving, doing His Will. But what if there is no God at all? What if the bike crashes, and there’s nobody there to let anybody know? That’s why I didn’t call anyone. Because I couldn’t accept that God had actually seen that happen and did nothing to stop it.”

M: “Maybe you were the one who was supposed to stop it.”

L: “Let’s change subject. What else do you want to know?”

M: “I want to know what you desire. What you want.”

L: “I don’t know what you mean, like how serious of an answer do you expect?”

M: “Serious.”

L: “I want to influence people into worshipping God, into loving each other. That’s why I’m involved with youth leadership at the church. And I want a guy who can treat me like a girl.”

M: “That’s pretty general. How does a guy treat a girl?”

L: “He lets her figure things out on her own. He lets her make mistakes. But he also protects her. He lets her be a girl until she turns into a woman.”

M: “So you want to be a girl, or a woman? There’s a difference.”

L: “Okay. Around Chris, I feel like a girl. I feel his innocence and I wish I never had sex. I wish I wasn’t a drinker. A partier. He’s sweet and I want to be sweet with him. But he still doesn’t know what he wants either. He says he wants to go find God, but I don’t know why he needs to go somewhere else to find Him. He’s right here. He’s with us.”

M: “But you said the world is an empty bicycle.”

L: “That’s only a fear I have, that we might be an empty bike. But down to the core, I can’t accept that. There are too many beautiful things. And I don’t just mean the flowers and nature. I mean like music. Why in the world would we have an appreciation for music if God didn’t exist? What genetic defect caused that? It doesn’t help us survive. It’s just beautiful.”

M: “What else do you find beautiful?”

L: “I was in Florida one time with my family and I saw a feather stuck in the ground after a rainfall. It was like a pen of God, there for my plucking. I like how the anatomy of a feather looks. The stem is hollow like a vein and the strands all come together to form a smooth surface. Like a veil. And even when it ruffles or splits, you can make it come back together.

M: “One more question, and then I’ll let you go.”

L: “Shoot.”

M: “Do you say ‘coo-pon’ or ‘que-pon’?”

L: “I don’t use coupons.”

M: “That doesn’t help.”

L: “Deal with it.”

M: “I’m still not convinced by what you want.”

L: “I told you.”

M: “Yeah, but there’s gotta be more. It doesn’t fit. You’re so self contradictory.”

L: “I want some independence. Some wiggle room. I want to be able to shock people. I want guys to think about me. To wonder who I am. To wonder if I’m serious or just teasing them. I want to be mysterious. I want to know that people can’t figure me out. That I’m still a bit of an enigma. Even to God.”

M: “That’s very presumptuous.”

L: “Quit interrupting me. You ask me what I want, and then you judge me for it. I don’t want to be judged. I want people to think of me as a perfume. As a fragrance that lingers and gets you to remember memories all day long.”

M: “In other words… a seducer.”

L: “Yeah, but not sexually. Just spiritually. Like a muse, but one you can’t own.”

Amazon.com: Paperback | Kindle Edition
Genre – Short Stories / Literary Fiction
Rating – PG13
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Synopsis: “Amidst Traffic” is a collection of high-caliber, interconnected short stories with a literary flair: A short-order cook digs a hole in his back yard to escape nightmares of mutilated children; A woman covers her body in tattoos to hold on to emotions that continue to slip away; A soldier who returns home from Iraq struggles with the idea of gratitude, which, if resolved, may save his marriage; A man begins a game of watching strangers to see what it feels like to play God. All of these stories, and others, are linked somehow. With each tale, more lines and connections begin to form. What initially feels like chaos, gradually begins to take order. A purpose exists that is unveiled by the end. Every story is crafted with a sense of compassion for the human spirit, while seeking answers about the conflicts we live through in everyday life. The characters in these stories will make you care about their struggles and hope for their redemption.

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© guiltless readingMaira Gall