Really, if this advice came from somebody in Ojai, CA, somebody with a crystal glued to her forehead and a wind chime on the patio, I wouldn't be surprised. Instead, it comes from Hilary Mantel, the woman who wrote WOLF HALL, a terrific book.
It's trouble-shooting advice. Trouble w/ a character. A main character is likely but any character, of course, is eligible.
Bring him/her into a room w/ a single chair. Ask the character to sit down. Be cordial. Get comfortable. Ask what's on his/her mind. See if he or she will talk to you.
Sounds simple, and it is. I can see why it might work even though it doesn't work for me. Well, it sort of works. What happens to me is that the character-of-the-moment is pushed off the chair by a character from the past. The fictional past. I might have predicted that Colleen from STONER & SPAZ would show up because she's a motormouth; instead it's Margaux from MARGAUX WITH AN X. And she wants to chat. Isn't jealous of characters who came after her. Doesn't want to be in another book. Just wants to know what's been going on. So we have some imaginary coffee and pretty soon she says good-bye.
The whole thing was unsettling. It gave me a sense of characters forever detained. In a word -- incarcerated. Locked in the stories I made up for them. Ben from "S&S," Margaux, the kid from TIGER, TIGER, BURNING BRIGHT, and all the rest.
Made me wonder if that's why I wrote/re-wrote all those fairy tales in LIES. To give those familiar characters new lives. New things to do.
What I decided was this -- I'd ask everybody from my fictional past to drop by. My studio isn't a dentist's office, so no waiting. Everybody's welcome.
It certainly made for an odd thirty minutes. I couldn't remember some of their names, but there they were milling around, chatting each other up. Every now and then one would come over and look at me affectionately. I wasn't a daddy but more like a god. And they weren't worshipping but they were glad to have some essence and heat.
Pretty soon they'd had enough and they left; then it was just me and an empty chair.
P.S. If you're following the adventures of the Albino Alligator on Twitter (redhen45), I think I'm about to introduce a new character.