The way to make the characters in your work of fiction come alive on the page is to know them well. One way to get to know them well is to ask them some questions.
I do this all the time, sometimes when I’m out in public, and sometimes my lips move slightly as I imagine this exchange. When people notice, I just tell them I’m testing a prototype of the iPhone 6, which is so small that you can’t see it and it reads your thoughts.
What are these revealing questions to ask our characters? Here are a few:
1: Why do you think you turned out the way you did?
This is a neutral question because you’re not judging how they turned out. Usually even if you think the character is a scumbag, he will explain to you why he turned out to be such a nice fellow. When his perception of himself differs from your perception of him, congratulations, that’s a sign you’ve created a strong character.
2: Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Again, your characters’ plans for himself may well be different from what you have planned for them. It’s just as well they can’t see your outline.
3: Who do you love?
Very revealing and many’s the time I’ve been surprised by the answers.
4: What do you really want? No, really, really?
They don’t always give this one up easily. You might have to dig past the first two or three answers you get.
5: What would you change?
See if you can get them to answer this without clarifying the question because their choice of what they’d change is revealing in itself.
Some would change some aspect of themselves or what they’ve done.
Others would change somebody else—in which case, is it to benefit that person, or themselves?
Some will say the kind of thing the Miss American contestants always say: “I’d feed all the hungry people of the world,” or “I’d make it so that we all love each other regardless of race, creed, or color.” Ask them what else they’d change and you’ll get the real answer.
Have fun, characters are some of the most interesting people.
(There are lots more tips on how to create compelling characters in the new edition of my book, "Your Writing Coach," published by Nicholas Brealey and available from Amazon and other booksellers.)