How would your characters stand up to a Paxman interview?

posted in: Writing, Writing Process | 0

There’s plenty for us all to learn about the need for preparation and anticipation just from watching Chloe Smith’s disastrous interview with Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight (Tuesday 26 June 2012).

The lesson is true for government ministers, but it’s just as relevant for writers who are struggling to fully prepare their characters for the story they find themselves in. Paxman is the supreme detector of those with flaws to expose. If you missed the live interview, and want to see him at work, there’s an edited three minute version on the BBC’s site or you can watch a more complete version below.

There’s plenty for the writer to learn about preparing the characters they create in fiction. If the character has been created with unintentional flaws, weaknesses or inconsistencies, they haven’t got a chance of putting a compelling case across to the reader. Not every reader is going to sniff out weakness like a Paxman, but it’s safe to assume that your characters will eventually get into trouble too if they are not fully prepared.

So how best can you prepare them?

One way is to give them a virtual interview with a fictional version of Mr Paxman. Sit them down in a virtual Newsnight studio and make sure they get a good grilling. Points to note are:

  • They’ve got to be well prepared to explain their actions and motivation in the story
  • Make sure they have their back story well rehearsed. If there’s a lot to it, make sure they know the details and don’t make contradictory statements at different points in the story.
  • Ask them questions they don’t expect to be asked. No point in asking them what they want to answer. Press them hard to see what they are made of.
  • If they evade a question, just ask them the same thing again and again until they tell you why thy behave as they do.

It might seem cruel to expose one of your creations to this sort of experience, but it’s better to do it the safety of a virtual interview instead of leaving it to the reader to find the flaws.

Of course, they’ve got to be ready for the Paxman test or there’s no point in putting them through it. And if they aren’t ready, then unlike the Chancellor, you might want to consider putting yourself forward for the interview instead.