One of the most productive methods of getting my characters to talk to me has always been letting them talk to each other. It always surprises me what they'll confide to others that they won't tell me directly.
As an example, my heroine Cleo was having a conversation recently with Willa, a woman who had once been a good friend of her mother's. I needed a reason for Willa to have blocked the name of another character (Steve) from her memory, and this is what came out of her mouth:
“I was engaged once to a guy named Steve. A real rat bastard. Jealous and controlling when he was sober, abusive when he was drunk, which was most of the time.” She looked down, picked up a piece of fish and absently dredged it through the tartar sauce. “Just like my dad, really. I was only nineteen, you know. Too dumb to realize I was on the road to being one of those abused women.”
Cleo hadn’t known that about Willa. “But you wised up apparently and didn’t marry him.”
“No, I didn’t marry him, but not because I got smart. He was coming back from a ski trip with his brother. It was late, you know, and the mountain road was slick. His car went over the edge.” She gave them a sardonic smile. “I thought I loved him, but when he died, all I felt was relief. Him dying was the nicest thing he ever did for me.”
Her attitude struck Cleo as a little hard hearted, but then she’d never been abused. Maybe she didn’t get to judge. “I’m sorry you had to go through that.”
“It’s okay. It taught me to really look at people, you know. Before I let them too close. Now I look for kindness and a good heart.”
So what tricks do you use to get your characters talking?