I had such a wonderful time interacting with you all when I visited this summer. You’re such a talented group, and ask such probing and insightful questions.
So that’s exactly what I’d like you to do with your characters: ask them some great questions. Pretend you’re an objective interviewer, and just let them speak spontaneously without thinking beforehand about what they might say, without any planning or judging or analyzing. You’ll often be amazed and surprised at what they have to say when you’re not concentrating on putting words in their mouths!
You can do this with new characters you’re just getting to know, or with characters you already think you know well. This exercise is a great way to get to know your people, but can also function as a wonderful tool when you’re blocked in a story.
Here are some of my favorite questions to ask:
What is your greatest fear?
What do you want more than anything else in your life?
And this one, which might seem trivial, but often yields very interesting results:
What do you think of your name?
Then just let your characters speak, let them flow; don’t stop them until they’re done. I’ve actually ended up using whole chunks of prose and information I’ve gleaned from these “interviews” in my published work.
So cheers to being both the interviewer and the interviewee! I predict you’ll learn a lot.
Best of luck to all of you, you fiercely talented young writers!
Kimberly Elkins’ fiction and nonfiction have appeared in The Atlantic, The Iowa Review, The Chicago Tribune, Best New American Voices, and Glamour, among others. She was a finalist for the National Magazine Award in fiction, and fellowships include Harvard, Radcliffe and the Kerouac Project for research for her novel, What Is Visible, published by Grand Central in June 2014 to critical acclaim, including the cover of the New York Times Book Review, and NBC’s Today Weekend Show. Kimberly has a BA from Duke, an MFA from Florida State in Creative Writing, and an MFA in Fiction from Boston University. She teaches in the MFA program in Creative Writing at The University of Hong Kong, the first of its kind in Asia, and lives in New York.