Listening to Your Characters by @mimicross and #GIVEAWAY

“She’s gonna listen to her heart
It’s gonna tell her what to do.”

— Tom Petty

And it’s going to tell you, the writer, what to do. Listening to your main character’s heart—is going to tell you what to write.

But how do you listen to a fictional heart?

CrossM_bookcoverPartway through writing Shining Sea I realized that the voice of my main character, 17-year-old budding singer-songwriter Arion Rush was becoming harder to hear. Her heartbeat was growing faint. Soon I began to understand, it was because I didn’t know her heart.

Whenever there was a ‘musical moment’ in the story, Arion explored her feelings through songwriting, and her lyrics definitely showed what was in her heart. But everywhere else in the novel, her feelings, her wants, her needs—were hidden.

I decided I should speak to her.

But when I tried to interview Arion the first time, I didn’t get very far.


Me: Hey Arion, how are you? And, where are you?

Arion: I’m in my room at the lighthouse.

Me: Cool. So . . . you probably know, I’m having a little trouble figuring out what’s up with you.

Arion: Yeah, I know. I also know you want me to be nicer than I really am.

Me: Okaaay . . . How about I ask you a few questions?

Arion: Sure. Doesn’t mean I’ll answer.

Me: That’s . . . fine. Let’s start with basics. What’s your favorite color?

Arion: Red. That’s the only thing you got right about me.

Me: Huh. Well . . . that’s something. How do you like Maine?

Arion: I love Maine. I feel like, I belong in the woods. There’s a certain kind of wildness here. It makes me—I can’t believe you just stopped to fix a typo, are you even listening?

Was I even listening?

Most of us take listening for granted. We believe we’re good listeners, and that everyone knows how to listen. But many people aren’t accustomed to listening on a deep level, and that’s very often where characters speak to us.

In preparation for a second interview, I practiced specific meditation exercises that encouraged me to listen to my body, and focus awareness on my breath and emotional flow.

The next time I interviewed Arion, I was much more prepared to listen.

I heard about Arion’s relationship with her mother, and learned it was a source of pain. I found out Arion experienced anxiety due to her sister’s accident, but also that her sister had treated Arion badly in the past. As a result, Arion had closed her heart off to others, including me. She worked on her songs alone, and at the start of Shining Sea, she hadn’t sung for many people.

But by the end of the book, Arion is well on her way to becoming a performer, and more. I’m convinced her transformation occurred not only because I started listening on a deeper level, but because I’d spent some time with my own heart.


Me: I’d like to talk a little more about your mom.

Arion: Look at her canvases.

Me: Um . . .

Arion: Look at the brush strokes. The colors. See all that freedom? All that wild self? See her letting go of control, of normal? She’s not worried about what people think—I’m tired of worrying about what people think. It wears on me. When I’m in the woods, or when I feel the salt air on my skin—

Me: Slow down. Wears on you? Isn’t that kind of an adult thing?

Arion: I’ve been taking care of myself for a while, in case you haven’t noticed. Dad’s got his boats, Mom’s got her art, and Lilah—even before the accident, Lilah was mom’s favorite. She sees Lilah’s wildness, that’s part of it. She thinks it’s like her own. She doesn’t get my wildness. Hey, how about a cup of coffee?

Me: ???

Arion: I need caffeine. Arion RUSH—hello?

Me: I’m here.

Arion: Are you?

Me: Yes, I’m listening.

Arion: I’m becoming an artist.

Me: (Stunned) I’m impressed you know that.

Arion: It hurts.

Me: (Floored) Why?

Arion: I’m different.

Me: Every adolescent feels that way. Every person feels that way.

Arion: Different, like—there’s something wrong with them?

Me: Well there is something wrong with you. You’re not afraid of Bo, and he’s a Siren.

Arion: That makes him wild. I am too—inside. I’m wild, in my heart. Can you write that?

Mimi Cross is an author, singer, and songwriter. Grammy award–winning artist Rosanne Cash has described Cross’s writing and singing as “Fusing delicacy and power, heart and gut. Inspiring, evocative, and refreshing.” Cross received a bachelor of music from Ithaca College and an MA from New York University and is the creator of Body of Writing, a practice combining yoga and writing that boosts creativity. Her novels, Before Goodbye, and Shining Sea are published by Skyscape. She resides with her young son in New Jersey. Visit her online at

If you are registered for Kidlit Summer School, you can download a worksheet of Mimi’s writing exercise at our Exercise Book. This is a password-protected area—only members allowed! Please check your email for the password.

GIVEAWAY! Mimi is kindly giving away a copy of Shining Sea, the paperback or MP3 audiobook version. Winner’s choice! For a chance to win, please leave a comment below.

Don’t miss your chance to get perfect attendance! Leave a comment on this post within the first 24 hours. Moderators have to approve first-time commenters, so your comment may not show up immediately.


150 comments on “Listening to Your Characters by @mimicross and #GIVEAWAY

  1. writeknit says:

    Great advise, I can’t wait to read your book to hear more of what Arion told you. Thank you for the opportunity to win a copy.


  2. Such excellent advice, Mimi. Time to listen to my characters. Thank you.
    ~Suzy Leopold


  3. judyrubin13 says:

    Thank you Mimi, for sharing your author/character insights.


  4. Robyn McGrath says:

    Next on my “to-do” list… interviewing my characters! Thank you.


  5. Wow, Mimi, you’ve made interviewing my main character not only fun but necessary. Thank you so much for your post!


  6. Natalie Lynn Tanner says:

    Mimi: THANK YOU for pointing out that the we, the writers, need to work on our listening skills — especially when it comes to TRULY understanding and portraying our characters. They really do have a life and heartbeat all their own. What a gift it is to be invited into their worlds and hearts.


  7. Often we are doing a lot of talking and no writing. Thanks for making me think.


  8. Hmm. This was interesting. Thank you.


  9. Excellent post. Thank you.


  10. Jenifer says:

    Nice post because if you don’t listen to your own writing I don’t think anyone would want to read what you wrote.


  11. Caroline says:

    I love your comments on listening deeper. I know I need to practice that, and I imagine many others do, too.


  12. Interesting post-I’ve found “interviewing” my characters difficult in the past- maybe your tips will help!


  13. Juliana Lee says:

    Love the interview idea. I’ve heard about it, but have never tried it because I wasn’t sure how to start. Thanks for the fuse.


  14. Andrea Mack says:

    I love the idea of interviewing my characters! Thanks!


  15. Great detail in the interview!


  16. Lauri Meyers says:

    Beautiful, Mimi. I learned so much about the heart of the book too.


  17. Thanks for the great examples of getting to know your character’s heart. I like your free-form interview format–seems like it allows you to go where the character and story need to go.


  18. writersideup says:

    Mimi, this is fantastic! The dialogue in your writing must be stellar, my dear 🙂


  19. Phyllis S Cherry says:

    You nailed the interview, brought out the wildness of her character, something you didn’t know. I’m so impressed with your dialogue. Thank you. Now if I can copy your success. Phyllis


  20. Marge Gower says:

    I do have trouble listening for or to my characters. I think for them instead of listening to their heart. I think I know what they want to say and not what’s in their hearts. Thanks


  21. laura516 says:

    Wow. Your post gave me goose bumps. I’ve never gotten very far with character interviews. Maybe I need to do listening exercises first, like you suggest. Thanks!


  22. susanzonca says:

    I love the idea of interviewing your MC. Thanks for sharing.


  23. Wonderful post, I need to listen to my characters more


  24. Judy Sobanski says:

    Enjoyed your post about listening to one’s characters. Very helpful.


  25. Juli Caveny says:

    Wow! This sounds like a great book! (Adding it to my Goodreads TBR list now.) And great advice too. I love how snarky your character was to you at first. Most 17yo avoid direct questioning, don’t they? Thanks for sharing w/us!


  26. Sheri Radovich says:

    Enjoyed this post for the relaxation instructions and not stressing over not writing much but relaxing and thinking things through.


  27. Kristen Browning says:

    Great post! Thanks for the advice. I know my listening skills could use some improvement–in my writing and in my life!


  28. Debbie Austin says:

    Thanks for the reminder to really listen to my characters.


  29. Sharon Giltrow says:

    Thanks Mimi for showing me how to truly listen to my characters.


  30. Andi Osiek says:

    Excellent advice…. Sometimes we make our characters who we want them to be but we really need to just understand who they are themselves. Thanks for the post.


  31. Nicola Tapson says:

    I enjoyed the way you interviewed your character and I was intrigued at how she answered. A very interesting method to get to know your characters.


  32. kimchaffee1007 says:

    Thanks so much for your post. I have tried to interview my mc and felt like I was going nowhere but I’m going to try to listen deeper like you suggested.


  33. Lori Mozdzierz says:

    Like the detail in the interviewing process.


  34. Ashley samson says:

    Great post, thanks!


  35. I’ve only ever interviewed my characters once. I’m amazed at how much more a writer receives on a second or third interview. Thanks for sharing this with us.


  36. Loved reading the interviews. I’d only done a one pass interview, never a repeat. And I think that’s when your post made me go “Ah!”


  37. Karen Leiby Belli says:

    This is a tip I have never used but will now. Thank you!


  38. csheer18 says:

    Writers, with our two ears to listen twice as much as we speak with our one mouth, are fortunate to have had your post as a reminder!


  39. I think I need to have a heart to heart with my main character!


  40. Oh my goodness, that last line of the interview actually made me well up with tears! Good work, Mimi!


  41. Gabi Snyder says:

    Wonderful advice, Mimi. I will try to listen more deeply to my characters. Thank you.


  42. Alex says:

    I guess you need to build relationships with characters just like with real people.


  43. I like that the mc could have another story to tell. It is surprising what your character will tell you, if you let them.


  44. Amy Benoit says:

    Brilliant! Simply. Brilliant.


  45. Priya says:

    Sometimes I want the writing to get done and forget who the story is about and don’t listen when they nudge me. Thanks for reminding me to listen to my own heart.


  46. Kristen C.S. says:

    These books sound fabulous! I love getting to hear from Arion, and I’m inspired to interview some of my characters. =)


  47. Lynn Alpert says:

    Great insight on getting to know your characters!


  48. Interview the main character? Brilliant. Writing aside, it’s good insight for dealing with people in general. Everybody wants to be heard. Thank you for sharing parts of your notes. I’m intrigued by the idea of a male siren.


  49. Thanks for the meditative writing exercise – looking forward to trying it and the character interviews!


  50. angelcat2014 says:

    I love the conversation you had with Arion. It makes me want to read your book. I’m also excited to try it with my own characters. 🙂


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