Interviewing Your Characters

How are your story ideas born? For me, it all begins with a character. Maybe it’s someone I see at a mall, or at the airport. Perhaps it’s someone in a car next to me at a traffic light. The list goes on and on.

Next comes “I wonder.”

I wonder why he is smiling? Why is she crying? What makes him clutch so tightly to that steering wheel? Where is he going? Who is going to meet her at the airport?

With such curiosity in the beginning, your character’s story might flow like ice melt in the spring. But lines or pages into your story, “winter” often comes too soon as your ideas once again begin to freeze.

What then?

I’ve shared many of the techniques I’ve used to “thaw the frozen stream” in my book, Creative Characterization. But my favorite method is “Interviewing Your Character.”

Characterization is only one element of fiction. But, in my favorite stories, other elements—plot, setting, and conflict—are seen, felt, touched, heard, even tasted through the characters. Therefore, an author must know her characters as well, if not better than, the “real” people in her life.

So, how do you get to know your characters–make them tell their secrets? I’ve used two different techniques:

Interviewing on Paper

  1. Write down several questions you’d like to ask your character. (Suggestion: Use the list below to start a conversation with your character, rather than a Q&A session.)
  2. Close your eyes and imagine sitting with the character. Imagine the setting—the sights, sounds, smells.
  3. Write down the conversation as it happens in your mind.
  4. As your character talks to you, pay attention to his “voice” not only in dialogue, but also internalization. Write in that voice.
  5. This is not a time to edit or censor, but to gain knowledge. Don’t lift your pen from the page or your fingers from the keyboard.

Interviewing “In Person”

  1. Find a friend, relative or fellow writer to interview you as you portray your character.
  2. “Become” your character. Assume her personality, including her voice. If she’s a child, speak as a child. If she’s from the South, speak like a Southerner.
  3. Your interviewer can start with a few questions listed below, or ask something he’d like to know, especially if he’s familiar with your story or character.
  4. As best you can, remain in the persona of your character. Try dressing as your character!

The deeper you get into the role of your character, the more you’ll discover about your character and how he or she sees the story.

Here are a couple of questions to get you started. Try to start a conversation, rather than firing off questions like in a Q&A session. As in real life, you’ll learn more in a conversation.

  • Tell me about something or someone who made you angry or happy.
  • Who was your greatest teacher?
  • Tell me about a time someone teased you as a child.
  • If you had one day left on earth, who would you want to spend it with?
  • Tell me a secret, either about yourself or someone else.
  • Who would you like to thank and for what?
  • If you could be a fly on the wall, where would that wall be?
  • Who do you need to forgive?

Though I have many other questions in my book Creative Characterizationtry to come up with your own questions, too. I created my list of questions by thinking of things I’d like to ask friends, family and even strangers to get to know their secrets. (I rarely have the courage to ask some of these questions of people in “real life,” but you can ask your characters ANYTHING, right?

I’ve used interviewing many times with my stories or novels, but my favorite instance–the time I learned the most–was when I interviewed Nobu, a character from my historical fiction, The Red Kimono. If you’d like to read the interview, click HERE.

You’ll learn many new, exciting and perhaps, surprising things about your character (and story) through this “conversation.” However, you probably won’t (nor should you) use everything. Still, the more of your characters’ secrets you learn, the better you’ll know how he sees the world. This knowledge will lead to deeper and richer characters and stories and therefore, will keep your readers turning the pages.


NOTE:  I’ll be teaching the interview method and other characterization development techniques with The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pen at this year’s Ozark Creative Writers Conference October 11-14. Come enjoy the Ozarks in autumn—the perfect setting to share and learn with other writers.


Celebrate Poetry-4/8: FRIENDSHIP

I love Ruth Weeks’s haiku!

Life: Haiku by Haiku

The theme for Day 8′s celebrating National Poetry Month is “Friendship.” Click HERE for details of this haiku celebration of throughout the month of April.

Since I’m not in the drawing for my own book, I decided it’s okay if for the friendship haiku, I don’t post one of my original haiku. Instead, I’m going to post a haiku that my dear friend, Ruth Weeks, wrote as a “farewell” haiku when I moved from Fayetteville to Dallas:

sisters not of blood
but soul mates from start of time
love needs no reason

laughing Ruth is the one on the far right. From left to right, Linda Apple, Pamela Foster, Patty Stith, Moi, Ruth Weeks — The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pen

Obviously, it made me cry. 🙂

Share your haiku about FRIENDSHIP in the comments of this post and you’ll be entered in the drawing for one of three signed copies of 

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The Lusty Month of May

Hope to see you at the OWFI Conference, May 1-3 at the Embassy Suites in Oklahoma City. I’ll be presenting three workshops there!

Jan Morrill Writes

Okay, okay. I’ll admit it. I used the title of a song from one of my favorite movies, Camelot, as a brazen attempt to attract your attention. But, my post does have to do with May.

I love May for at least two reasons:

  1. Spring should be in full bloom by then, though with the winter we’ve had, one might have some doubts.spring
  2. The OWFI Conference!! I CAN count on that! This year’s conference will be held May 1-3 at the Embassy Suites in Oklahoma City.


Take a peek at the wide array of presenters at this year’s conference — including me!

Here’s a teaser for the three different workshops I’ll be presenting:

Characterization: Using Letters & Photos to Bring Characters to Life
Friday, May 2, 10:00 a.m.-11:00 a.m.

Are you challenged with getting your characters to “talk” to you? I have a couple of successful methods I’ve…

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The Ghost of Branson Rodeo Bling Queen

Spending time with Ruth can not only be spooky, it makes me laugh until my stomach hurts. 🙂

Truths by Ruth

This weekend I attended the first meeting of the year of the Ozark Writers League in Branson, Missouri.  Snow and ice holding me prisoner in my own house for days on end, being behind  at work, and a $200.00 electric bill had turned me into a depressed, grumpy ol’ bear.  I needed this get-out-of-Dodge weekend in the worst way.  Hanging out with creative, like-minded folks always recharges my battery, plus as an added bonus, I rode to the meeting with one of my best pals, Gyspy Jan.  Gyspy Jan moved to Big D a few months ago leaving a huge hole in my heart, so spending time with her made my dull high-pro glow bright and shiny once more.

We stayed the night in Hollister at the Ye Olde English Inn.  The Inn drips charm, The first time I stayed at the Inn a perfect stranger grabbed my hand at the door and said, “this place is haunted…

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The Song that Came to Mind

What song first comes to mind for you? What’s the story behind that song?

Jan Morrill Writes


Last night, I drew another prompt from the writing prompt box I recently created:

Write about the first song that comes to mind.

Music…a song…can take me back in time faster than almost anything, except perhaps a scent. So, I enjoyed this prompt.

I’m sure it will be obvious to you that I changed a name to protect the innocent. And, it’s funny how the mind fills in details that have been forgotten, so perhaps there are a couple of minor embellishments. But it’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Following is the song and the story that first came to mind. I would LOVE to hear about the story behind the first song that comes to your mind!


One of my most romantic moments came when I was in fourth grade. Back then, romance was made of fairy tales, of princes on white stallions and happily-ever-afters.


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An Interview with Writer’s Block

How can this guy be in so many places at once?

Jan Morrill Writes

It has now been three months and two days since I’ve written a single word on Broken Dreams, the sequel to The Red Kimono. And other than a few blog posts and a few haiku, I’ve written nothing to speak of.

Granted, the last few months have been hectic, frenetic and just a little chaotic with book signings, presentations, fulfilling miscellaneous obligations AND moving to Dallas in anticipation of the birth of my first grandchild. Still, I have to place the real blame on the creature we all know as Writer’s Block. How do I know this? Because in the week following Thanksgiving, even though I’m all settled into my new home and have few responsibilities to fulfill other than waiting by the phone for news that my daughter-in-law has gone into labor, I haven’t written anything.

writer block

So, I’ve decided to interview this unwelcome visitor who is no…

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To Miss or Not to Miss?

Whoa! It’s been a long time since I’ve shared anything on the Sisterhood blog! Here’s a peek at what’s inside my head. 🙂

Jan Morrill Writes

I’ve been remiss in posting to my blog. I’ve been remiss in writing anything, as a matter of fact. Busy, busy, busy, but those are only excuses, aren’t they?

I hope to get more writing done while I’m house/dog sitting for Stephen over the next several weeks. The farm was always a good place for a little peace and quiet. But, after my first night there, I began to think about the things I miss and the things I don’t miss.

I’m not sure how long this will go on, especially since I’m always pretty tight-lipped when it comes to putting personal things out into the blogosphere. But, at least for now, my reasons for missing or not missing feel pretty safe. Also, this is one of those topics that I think to myself, “Why would anyone even care?”

But I’m going to write it anyway, even if it’s just…

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Add the Sisterhood to my list of blessings, too.

Jan Morrill Writes

I’ve been meaning to write this blog post since Saturday afternoon, upon my return from the Northwest Arkansas Writers Free Conference. Oddly enough, I intended to title the post “Blessed.” This morning, as I see #Blessed is a trending hashtag on Twitter, I decided I can’t procrastinate any longer.


At Saturday’s conference, I was one of the morning presenters, with my Sisterhood of the Traveling Pen. I discussed two different methods I use to develop and deepen my characters:

  1. Interviewing the character
  2. Describing a photo or painting in the voice of your character

Here’s a copy of the PowerPoint I used in this presentation: Memorable Characters.

If you’d like to read an excellent recap of the day, my friend, Staci Troilo wrote about it on her blog. Click here to read her post titled, “Six Speakers, I Mean, Reasons Why Saturday Was So Great.” Thanks to…

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You’re Invited to the Sisterhood Series at Fayetteville Public Library

63The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pen will present a series of six ninety-minute interactive workshops geared toward beginning/intermediate writers, both fiction and non-fiction. Each session will include handouts and exercises. The series will close in Week Six with a panel where attendees may ask questions and will be invited to read their works.

  • When: Tuesdays beginning January 8 through February 12
  • Time: 6:00 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.
  • Where: Fayetteville Public Library

Week 1: JANUARY 8–Make ‘Em Smell the Coffee: Creating a Sense of PlaceA reader has five senses. Pamela Foster will discuss and use exercises to tap into the senses to create a world readers will enter and experience.

Week 2: JANUARY 15–Whose Head Are You In?—Claire Croxton will define point of view and demonstrate through discussion and exercises.

Week 3: JANUARY 22–Trimming the Fat from Your Story —Is your story flabby? Full of passive verbs? Too many adverbs or adjectives? Wasted words? Get ready for a writerly workout with Ruth Weeks!

Week 4: JANUARY 29–Interviewing Your Character —Learn to interview your characters, whether over martinis or coffee. Using demonstrations and handouts, Jan Morrill will discuss how to add dimension and depth to characters, so that readers will go beyond reading to experiencing the story.

Week 5: FEBRUARY 5–Thawing Writer’s Freeze —The road to publication is scattered with obstacles that freeze our brains and make our fingers cold on the keys. In this session, Linda Apple will address these problems and use exercises to help break through these barriers.

Week 6: FEBRUARY 12–Panel Question and Answer—Pam, Claire, Ruth, Linda and Jan will answer and discuss questions and invite attendees to read their stories.


Linda Apple, Pamela Foster, Jan Morrill, Ruth Burkett Weeks and Claire Croxton are authors who have been published in non-fiction and fiction genres including romance, paranormal, historical, inspirational and mainstream. Their writing activities include judging writing contests and serving as board members (including President) of organizations such as Oklahoma Writers Federation, Inc., a multi-genre organization with more than 600 members from Oklahoma, the surrounding states, and around the world; Ozarks Writers League and Northwest Arkansas Writers. For more information, please click on the following links:

To enroll for this series, please contact Fayetteville Public Library at 479-856-7000.


I hope you’ll bear with this first-time novelist’s excitement over the little joys along the way on my path to publication, because here I go:

Look what came in the mail! The galleys for The Red Kimono! For my non-writer friends, here’s the definition of a galley:

galley proof: noun

A proof, originally one set from type in a galley, taken before the material has been made up into pages and usually printed as a single column of type with wide margins for marking corrections.

So, this is not the “real” book . . . yet. But, I’m one step closer. And it was quite a thrill to see it, to flip through the pages and to read it in book format, rather than on a computer or printed out on paper.

Is this “old hat” for you who are mulitple-times published? Or, is it still a thrill to see your book in hard copy form?

Watch for the “real” book, including the highly-anticipated cover image. Coming  in January by the University of Arkansas Press!

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