First of all, I want to make it clear that I do not talk out loud to my characters (nope, not me…that’s not my voice you hear drifting from my office). But since it’s important to get to know my characters before I start writing about them, I do ask them lots of questions. So you could say I interview them. Just like I would a real, actual person. Except, honestly, I don’t do it out loud. Really.
The way I do it is I fill out a questionnaire of some kind. Lengthier for main characters, more brief for minor characters. The questionnaire will include some basic stuff such as the character’s name, height, weight, hair and eye color. Who their mom & dad are, their siblings, where they live. Small details that, believe it or not, I will sometimes forget. For instance, I don’t want my main character’s eyes to change in the course of the book from blue to brown to blue (assuming she’s not changing them with contacts).
Once I have the physical details nailed down, I get into the internal issues–family dynamics, moments in the character’s life that had an impact on them. What are her strengths and weaknesses? What is his world view? What justifications does she have for doing what she does? What is at least one quirk that this character has (terrified of spiders, maybe, or extremely clumsy)? I also make sure to give them flaws. Perfect people are boring.
Before I start writing and as I’m working, I also tend to keep a “notes” document where I keep tabs on certain story and character details. There might be an uncle who died years ago and I’ll make note of his name in case he comes up more than once. There might be some crucial backstory of a monumental turning point for the character that I have to remember to keep track of.
And if my characters are non-communicative? My antenna immediately go up. So, why don’t you want to talk, I ask (silently, of course)? What about your background keeps you mum? Problems with your mother, your father? Your ex-girlfriend cheated on you? Your younger brother died as a baby and you somehow feel responsible?
No one in this world is a blank slate and my characters shouldn’t be either. Something made them what they are at the moment my story starts. I have to create that past life for them. That way I make them real.