How to get your characters to talk to you

You’ve got a great idea and you’re ready to write, but then your characters look at you with a curled lip egging you on to even try to get in their brain.  When we were in grade school you learned the Ws; who, what, where, when, how and why.  You’re not in grade school now.  Jane is not going up the hill with Dick.  Jane is batting her eyes as she feels the warm breeze from the late summer wind, she’s dreaming of running her fingers through Dick’s dark hair as he holds her in an embrace.

How did she get the desire building deep inside her?  Where is she coming from?  She’s not going to answer that question because you asked.  In my experience when I have a stubborn character that doesn’t want to share her story I get a snack and sit down with him or her and interview them. 

There are simple questions you can ask or you can do hard ones. The ones I find most important are:

What’s your name?  I know it seems simple, but there is more to a name than just Jane Jones.  What does the name Jane mean?  Is she one of those Jones’ or did she marry into that name? 

Tell us about yourself. This is where you discover the moral fiber and why’s of your character.  I was the middle child of seventeen or I was raised to believe in myself by hippie parents, etc.

What do you do?  Some people have jobs and some people have professions.  Even if the person’s a fry cook at the local fast food place, if they’re like Spongebob who sees it as his life’s profession, it’ll mean more to him than a successful stocks trader who hates what he does and wants to be a carpenter.

What’s your greatest fear?  Fear equals weakness, most characters need to overcome something.  Whether it’s spiders or commitment, everyone has an Achilles heel.

What’s your greatest desire?  Yes, it seems like Jane’s desire is for Dick (You know I’m really irritated that in the forties and fifties they didn’t see how wrong those names were…go back to question number one). Jane’s real desire might be to go to Alaska and mine for gold.  We don’t know, ask her.

What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?  A serial killer may say the worst thing he’s ever done was not taking the necklace off the corpse because he really liked it.  While a regular person might say they left without paying for coffee.  Again, you’re learning about their morays.

How have you been admirable?  “Why yes,” Jane cooed. “I brushed my teeth after going down on Dick at the top of the hill before I made him kiss me.”  Your humble characters might still say no even though they rebuilt a house for a family after a fire. 

What could make you cry?  Do you have a weeper or could you watch your whole family die in front of you and think…hmm, I guess it’ll only be one for supper tonight.

What could make you murder?  For characters that are parents, this could be an easy one.  Unless they are bad parents.  Do you see how this is showing you so much into their souls?

What would describe you in a few words?  This will be the hardest one to answer and could turn into your catch phrase.

Still can’t get the tight-lipped character to talk?  How about this?  I recently learned about using Tarot Cards with writing.  No, I’m not saying summon the dark forces to tell you if you have a best seller on your laptop.  There are many types of Tarot Cards out there, and they all have different sets of pictures.  I just picked up a very paranormal set with amazing graphics.  It doesn’t matter what the card says or means, it’s what the picture say to you. 

Lay out a card for every question, then look at them in order.  You’d be amazed how a picture can answer the question for you.  Again, it’s not about the death card or the king of cups, it’s about what does the figure or person or drawing say to you.
Just remember, there is more than just the Ws in writing, you’re creating a person or being that if they walked off your page could be whole.  If you can’t do that for your characters, people aren’t going to care about them and if they don’t care, they wont read.

Michel Prince
Guest post by Michel Prince. Michel Prince is an author who graduated with a bachelor degree in History and Political Science.  Michel writes young adult and adult paranormal romance as well as contemporary romance.

With characters yelling "It's my turn damn it!!!" She tries to explain to them that alas, she can only type a hundred and twenty words a minute and they will have wait their turn.  She knows eventually they find their way out of her head and to her fingertips and she looks forward to sharing them with you.  

When Michel can suppress the voices in her head she can be found at a scouting event or cheering for her son in a variety of sports.  She would like to thank her family for always being in her corner and especially her husband for supporting her every dream and never letting her give up.

Michel is a member of RWA Pro and Midwest Fiction Writers.  She lives in the Twin Cities with her husband, son, cat and new puppy. 


Michel will be awarding a butterfly gift basket to one randomly drawn commenter and a butterfly necklace to a second randomly drawn commenter. So I encourage you to follow the tour and comment; the more you comment, the better your chances of winning. The tour dates can be found here:


  1. "Again, you’re learning about their morays."
    Spellcheck strikes again. Unless we're talking about their deep-held beliefs in the raising of saltwater fish.
    Excellent article, this or an equivalent should be a lesson in every creative writing class. (Hey, Michel, have you ever thought about doing a non-fiction textbook ...?)

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. No. I like living in the world of fiction...where saltwater fish eat the creator of spell check. :)

  2. What a fun and informative post, Michel. I have yet to use my tarot cards and read a book I picked up about using the cards for writing. I'm looking forward to trying them, as well as your interview questions.

    1. Thanks for stopping by Jody. I like mixing different methods to allow my characters freedom

  3. Great Post Michel! I always learn a lot from your posts!

  4. Love this. My best characters steal scenes and rewrite my plots in wonderful ways. I have valuable 'dialogue moments' when I'm alone in the car or showering.

    1. They can be...just saw some Steampunk Tarot cards at the bookstore thought of you

  5. Good advice. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Michel...As a reformed suicide & crisis counselor, I must say that if the voices in your head start telling you to hurt yourself, PLEASE get professional help...LOL! I often seem to be saying that to authors. They seem prone to voices in their heads!

    What kind of new puppy do you have?

    1. Sadly I submitted this information early in Dec and my Yorkie ran out into the street a week before Christmas. His name was Austin. We're probably going to be getting another one soon.


I love to hear from you. So feel free to comment, but keep in mind the basics of blog etiquette — no spam, no profanity, no slander, etc.

Thanks for being an active part of the Writers and Authors community.