Holding the Mic Up to Your Characters

Guest Post by Jani Gonzalez

Millie and me

Jani Gonzalez is a writer and editor living in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. She grew up with the notion of writing the kind of stories that she loved to read. Her first love is with the short story, but she is currently working on her first young adult novel, The Wishmakers.


When it comes to writing fiction, I often find myself off to a running start then dwindling as I attempt to introduce my characters and build my plot. As a result, my structure is weak. In my head, I have a general idea of my story, but the details are blurry. Even when I sit down to outline, the same thing happens: I have more questions than answers. But now I realize that it’s answering those questions that can help me write the story.

Each time I write, I rethink my approach to see what might help move the story forward. My latest attempt is to interview my characters. This idea may not be new, but interviewing is something I’ve developed from being a freelance writer. In the past year, I have written several feature articles for a local community magazine, and I find myself writing those stories with the ease I wish I had with fiction.

In preparing for an article, I do my homework. I research, write my questions, and then I interview my sources. When I write the article, I highlight what I think answers the “who, what, when, why, and how” of the article, and I tell their story. I write a brief outline, and the article nearly writes itself.

Why not approach writing fiction in the same way? As writers, ideas come to us from every angle, but I’d argue to say that they come to us in complete detail from start to finish. With my current short story, I have a vague idea of who my characters are, but I realize that like with my articles, I need to do my homework. I need to know more about them. And to do this, I will need to interview them, and find out how this story got started, and what their take on it is. Then, I can highlight what’s important and hopefully see their story come out from it.

Maybe some stories are easier to capture than others. But when there’s nothing but an idea that you can’t let go of – ask yourself the basic questions, do your research, and interview your characters. What they tell you about themselves are the building blocks of your story.

About Bonnie Gwyn Johnson

Bonnie Gwyn handles all guest bloggers on this website. Contact her if you would like to volunteer your time to share writing advice for The Authors' Think Tank.