Four Great Ways to Research a Character


One of my favorite parts of writing fiction is the research required to build a convincing set of characters. Yeah, we need to research locations, technical background (I do a lot of research on police procedures), and history, if we’re writing in another era. But more importantly, we need to create people our readers can believe in.

So here are some of my tried and true research techniques.

  1. Interviews. At first, I thought it was going to be hard to get someone to sit down with me and answer specific questions about themselves. But I was delighted to find out that it was, indeed, possible! And that people were even eager to share.

    For instance, when I wrote my Transformed series, about a transman spy, I was fortunate to have several interviews with three different transmen. Similarly, I interviewed a police officer friend for the character of Frankie, an SFPD cop, who shows up in both Transformed and Driven. They all shared candidly about their challenges, fears, hopes, motivations and dreams. I chalk up the believability of Charley’s and Frankie’s characters to these conversations, and boy, am I grateful!

  2. YouTube. It’s been said before by many authors, but you can’t beat YouTube for a sense of how a character looks, acts, moves, and sounds. Kate Morahan, an Irish expat in my Oaktown Girls series, has an accent — and turns of phrase — I pulled right off of YouTube. What a vast resource it is! You can literally find anything you can think of. Pretty much.

  3. Books, Journals and Diaries. I learned this one from my dad, the artist John Falter, who chronicled the migration west, among other things, in the last years of his career. He did this by going to historical societies in county seats all over the midwest, southwest and west. There he found old pioneers’ and miners’ journals that gave firsthand accounts of what they saw in the long trek to the West.

    I have also researched things like love relationships with police officers and first responders through books found on Amazon and in public libraries.

  4. Eavesdropping. I know, I know … this sounds really bad. But try it when you’re in a crowded restaurant or on public transportation, you really can’t help it, right? You learn a lot about not only how people think, but how they express themselves. The key is to keep a notebook or app handy so you can record snips of dialogue for future use. My practice is to walk around Oakland’s Lake Merritt, listening as I go. And I’ve used some of the dialogue I’ve heard along the way for sure.

If you want to see my characters in action, here are two novels whose characters were created with these techniques — Transformed: San Francisco and Driven.

Suzanne FalterComment