How to Ask Your Characters for Help

02.08.2017 |

Episode #7 of the course How to overcome writer’s block by Jurgen Wolff


If you get stuck writing fiction, who are you going to call? One good option is to ask your characters for help. In this lesson, you’ll discover how to do that.


Ask Them What They Want

What I suggest is interviewing your characters. Each of them wants something (even if sometimes, it’s just to be left alone). They want something in general, and they want something in the scene you are writing. Finding out what that is makes it easier to know what to write.

Let’s take an example: You’re writing a scene for a romantic comedy in which Brad and Jane meet on a blind date. You’ve written some good dialogue for their first awkward moments, and you know that you don’t want them to get along too well at this first meeting, but you’re not sure exactly what to have happen in the body of the scene.

In this case, some good questions to ask both of your characters would be:

• What’s the best thing that could happen?

• What’s the worst thing that could happen?

• What do you think the other person wants?

• What do you find attractive and unattractive about them?

Those questions alone might well be enough to get you going.

For example, maybe she says the worst thing would be to have him be one of those driven types who check their phones for new messages every 30 seconds. If we want Brad to do this even though that’s not his usual habit, we need to plant a reason for him to check his phone on this occasion, and make it something too embarrassing or personal for him to be willing to reveal to her, since they just met.


How to Conduct These Interviews

One way to make this process work better is to sit in a chair and imagine your character is sitting in a chair opposite you. Take a moment to visualize them—what are they wearing, what is their posture, what’s the expression on their face? You may find it easier to do this with nobody else around and with your eyes closed.

Imagine asking your first question, then be quiet and imagine the character answering. Sometimes they may not want to answer or they may lie—which will be quite revealing in itself.


What If They (and You) Don’t Know the Answers?

If you don’t know their desires, fears, and secrets, spend some time fleshing out the characters. Think about their backgrounds, their relationships, and how they spend their days. Then return to the interview and the answers should come more easily.

When you use this tool for the first time, you may be surprised at how much information comes up. You now have a great way to bring to the surface information that’s been lurking in your subconscious mind.


Sometimes the Answers Come Later

Even if you don’t feel like your characters are talking to you, pose the questions. Sometimes the answers will come up in your dreams or they’ll suddenly pop into your mind while you’re in the shower or doing something unrelated to writing.

Now you know how to let your characters solve your block. Tomorrow, we’ll look at a very effective specific tool for generating lots of ideas.

All the best,



Recommended book

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott


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