Interviews Spark Novel Ideas by J. L. Greger

Have you noticed characters in some novels are boring? Be honest. Do a couple of your characters need more pizzazz?

Try interviewing others to get fresher characters. As a fiction writer, you aren’t held to the same standards as a journalist doing an exposé. However, good interviews take effort. Maybe, these suggestions will be helpful.

1. Explain what you want to achieve to the interviewee at the start of the conversation. Most people are open about past experiences, if you guarantee you won’t use their names. As a fiction writer, you can also assure them that you’ll change the facts enough so no one can identify them.

2. Determine your goals before the interview. Do you want to obtain specific information? On what? Are you trying to get a “mood?” I found little details help me catch the “mood” when I write. Accordingly, detailed descriptions of a favorite toy, a city park, or a grandmother’s parlor are helpful.

3. Be organized and control the flow of the interview. Plan your questions and arrange them into a logical sequence. A list of topics to be covered is usually more helpful than a written list of specific questions.

4. Vary your questions to fit the personality of the interviewee. A loquacious person could talk for thirty minutes in response to a totally open-ended question (“Tell me about your childhood.”) and not give you enough specific details to write an interesting story. On the other hand, a taciturn person might “clam up.” A more focused, but still open-ended, question (“Tell me about an incident in your childhood that made you proud of your mother?”) is apt to elicit a better response. Follow-up questions should be tailored to fit the interviewee.

5. Be conversational.

6. Avoid distracting subjects with your recording (whether by taking notes or taping) of the interview.

7. Thank your subject but don’t promise them editing rights to your story.

I hope these suggestions help you get “novel” ideas and perspectives for your next novel. Maybe you’d also like to read my medical thrillers/mysteries.

Blurbs: In Ignore the Pain, Sara Almquist couldn’t say no when invited to be the epidemiologist on a public health mission in Bolivia. Soon someone from her past in New Mexico is chasing her through the Witches’ Market of La Paz and on to the silver mines of Potosí. Unfortunately, she can’t trust her new colleagues, especially the sinister Xave Zack, because any one of them might be under the control of the coca industry in Bolivia.

In Malignancy, men disguised as police officers shoot at Sara Almquist twice in one day. The Albuquerque police suspect a drug czar, who Sara tangled with in Bolivia, will order more hits on her. Thus when colleagues in the State Department invite Sara to arrange scientific exchanges between the U.S. and Cuba, she jumps at the chance to get out of town and to see the mysterious Xave Zack. Maybe, she should question their motives.

P.S. The background of Xave Zack in my novels is based on interviews with a real man.

Bio: J.L. Greger is no longer a professor in biology, but she likes to include tidbits of science in her medical thrillers/ mysteries — Malignancy, Ignore the Pain, Coming Flu, and Murder: A New Way to Lose Weight. Her two great passions are her dog Bug (who is a character in all her novels) and travel. Accordingly, the locations in her novels, include Bolivia, Cuba, Washington D.C., and Miami, as well as her native New Mexico. Website:


Janet Greger said…
Marilyn, Thanks for hosting me. I hope the tips on interviewing are useful to your readers.
I remember when you started to work on making characters more dimensional--and it worked well!
Marja said…
Excellent suggestions, Janet. Thank you for sharing them.
Marja McGraw
Thonie Hevron said…
Great ideas, Janet. I can always count on you to come up with something interesting!
Janet Greger said…
Thanks for the kind comments.

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