So there I was, sitting at the keyboard, making a few notes about the secondary protagonist in my fledgling WIP, a man in his late 50s, a wildlife biologist whose father was murdered when he was in college. And all of a sudden, I found myself transcribing a conversation only I could hear, between the man and his therapist. I didn’t know he had one — now that I’m further into the planning process, I’m pretty sure he doesn’t, and my subconscious invented one on the spot, to give me an ear on the man’s innermost thoughts. And in those few minutes, the character got a name and a broken marriage and a daughter and a lot of history I would not have discovered, or would have needed a lot more time and work to unearth, if I hadn’t been willing to listen to those voices.
Try it. Take your character out for coffee and scribble in your notebook what she might say, how the conversation would go, if she were sitting across the table from you instead of in your mind. What is she wearing? Did she dress with care or throw on her stained gardening clothes? Is she calm or fidgety? Talking slowly and deliberately or a mile a minute? How does she take her coffee and does she cradle the cup for warmth or let it grow cold? Does she care what you think? Is she sweet to the server or rude?
Maybe you and your character think by moving. Take a walk and speak your conversation into the recorder on your phone. And no, no one will care — they probably won’t notice, assuming you’re on the phone for real.
Imaginary friends. They truly are the heart of fiction.