You’ve probably seen a TON of lists of questions that demand “These questions NEED to be asked”. And what’s on them? Mostly stuff that you don’t really need to know to unfold a great character. (NO offense, seriously. I just wish people would stop telling me I need to know what kind of underwear my character wears.)
This list is different.
I know because I read all those other lists out there and picked the things that (I think) every writer should know about their character. Some of them are just for fun, but most really help me narrow down how I’m going to write a specific character. I thought it would be nice, while we’re working with character development, to share these with you.
They’ve helped me build characters, as well as stories. They dig deep into the character’s psyche, so you know where s/he is coming from. And they SERIOUSLY reveal character.
I will also share some of my favorite answers, after the list. So, without further ado, let’s begin.
38 QUESTIONS TO ASK EVERY CHARACTER
1. How old is s/he (physically AND mentally)?
2. Did s/he have a happy childhood? Why or why not?
3. What are their past and present relationships and how do they affect him/her?
4. What does s/he care about?
5. What is s/he obsessed with?
6. What is his/her biggest fear?
7. What is the best thing that ever happened to them? Worst?
8. What is their most embarrassing moment?
9. What is his/her biggest secret?
10. What is the 1 word that defines him/her?
11. What do you know about him/her that s/he doesn’t?
12. What music does s/he sing when no one else is around?
13. What is his/her favorite movie?
14. What is his/her favorite piece of clothing? Shoes?
15. Who is his/her favorite person?
16. What calms him/her?
17. Does s/he play any instruments?
18. What is his/her catchphrase?
19. What is his/her favorite excuse?
20. What is his/her favorite song?
21. What annoys him/her?
22. What is the most beautiful thing s/he has ever seen?
23. What is the worst injury s/he has ever sustained? (in the past)
24. Has anyone close to him/her died?
25. What would s/he wish for if s/he found a genie?
26. What is the most frightening handicap s/he could sustain? (in the present or future)
27. When and where was s/he happiest?
28. What is something s/he can’t resist?
29. What is something people misunderstand about him/her?
30. What is his/her favorite holiday?
31. What are his/her hopes and dreams?
32. What would s/he die for?
33. What would mentally destroy him/her?
34. Why would s/he defend a stranger?
35. What does s/he lie about?
36. Does s/he have a positive or negative body image?
37. What object will s/he never give up?
38. What can s/he do at the end that s/he can’t do at the beginning?
A lot to take in, I know. Let me explain how this works.
It’s OK to think outside the box. Sometimes the answer will just pop out of nowhere, sometimes you’ll really have to think hard to get to the heart of the issue. (P.S. This list is also great to help create backstory).
I’ll give you some examples of some of my characters’ answers. They’re…. interesting, to say the least.
We’ll start with a question where my character dropped a quote in my lap that completely answered the question.
Q: What is his biggest fear?
A: “I am in the desert… This. This right here is my biggest fear.” (He’s afraid of dirt.)
Sometimes, the way your character thinks about something will come out in their answer, or even the way they talk. Like this answer from a Texas boy character.
Q: What is the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen?
A: A Texas sunset by the Gulf beach.
Not how I would have put it, but characters do that sometimes.
Sometimes an answer can be as simple as…
Q: What is one thing she can’t resist?
A: A good churro.
Sometimes, your character’s answer will be symbolic. Usually of something in their own life. LIke…
Q: What is her favorite holiday?
A: New Year’s. New beginnings.
(Talk about backstory!)
Lastly, sometimes your character will give an answer that completely shapes how they see themselves, other people, or even the world.
Like this fragile flower:
Q: What was her most embarrassing moment?
A: Found boyfriend with her best friend. On date night.
Ouch. That probably shaped how she views guys and herself. Because of this, she doesn’t have great self-worth. Think about those kinds of experiences. Why the character is who they are.
Do that, and your characters will end up pretty amazing.
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