Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Posted by Laurel Garver on Wednesday, January 28, 2015 8 comments
Photo credit: GaborfromHungary from morguefile.com
Characters ought to be more than a name and job title, like Joan Bunderson, special operative or Kyle Kowalski, hockey star. To breathe on the page, your characters need to have an outer life that's relational beyond work and an inner life of passions, drives, attitudes, memories, wounds, and fears.

Below is a fairly exhaustive list of questions to brainstorm when developing a new character, especially the protagonist. Obviously you don't need to know all these things about him or her to proceed with a story. However, wrestling with some of these questions might open up new avenues for inner and outer conflict to arise, or suggest interesting plot or setting elements you hadn't before considered. So choose a few from each menu or tackle them all, your choice.

If interviewing is your favorite research method, you might find it beneficial to find real people with similarities to your character and ask them a few of the questions. Even if your character is quite different personality-wise, a peer of your characters could give you helpful insights.

I suspect some of these questions might be useful for getting to know just about anyone if you're ever at a loss for conversation ideas.

Likes

1. What are your longtime interests or passions?

2. What do you like to do to relax? Have fun?

3. What are your favorite foods?

4. What scents do you love most? Which ones draw up specific memories for you?

5. What textures appeal to you most? What feels nice on your skin?

6. What kinds of music appeal to you? Why?

7. What sounds do you find soothing? Irritating?

8. What shows, movies, or books do you watch and reference over and over?

9. What words of phrases do you find yourself saying all the time?

10. What was your most precious childhood possession?

11. Are you a collector? What do you collect and why?

Experiences

1. What is the coolest place you’ve ever visited?

2. What is your favorite holiday memory?

3. What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever observed?

4. What is the funniest thing you’ve ever done?

5. What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?

6. What accomplishments are you most proud of?

7. What’s the worst illness or injury you’ve ever had?

8. What is the kindest thing anyone has done for you?

9. What is the most memorable gift you ever received?

10. What’s the meanest thing someone has done to you?

11. Have you ever posted, emailed, or texted something you wish you could take back?

12. What’s your most memorable moment with eavesdropping?

13. What is the weirdest secret you ever discovered?

14. What pranks, jokes, hoaxes or tricks have you ever fallen for or perpetrated?

Relationships

1. Do you find it easy or hard to get to know people?

2. What do you love most about your family? Dislike most?

3. How are you like your parents? How are you different?

4. What unique traditions have been passed down in your family?

5. What qualities do you value most in a friend?

6. What makes someone attractive/dating material to you?

7. Who are your role models? Who do you admire and look up to?

8. Who do you fight with most? What do you fight about?

9. What kinds of people do you feel awkward around? Why?

10. How do you feel about people in authority?

Inner life

1. What do you worry about most?

2. Do you have any phobias? What kinds of things scare you?

3. What makes you feel most at peace?

4. How do you calm yourself when you are upset or anxious?

5. What bad habit do you most wish you could give up?

6. What injustices make you most upset?

7. How do you react when you are provoked?

8. How do you relate to money and possessions? How important is wealth to you? Why? Are you carefree or worried about gains and losses?

Dreams

1. What crazy adventure do you dream of taking?

2. If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?

3. If you could magically acquire a new talent, what would you choose?

4. What would your dream home be like?

5. If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would you choose?

6. If you could go anywhere in the world, where would it be?

7. If you could time travel, what time period would you like to visit?

8. If you could have a superpower (or two), what would you choose?

9. If someone could magically cure one of your deepest fears, which would you choose?

Which of these questions strike you as most helpful? What other favorite character development questions do you use? 

8 comments:

  1. That's quite a list. I'm going to tuck it away for when I'm starting my next book. Thanks.

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    1. Glad it looks like a useful tool. Happy writing!

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  2. I like interviewing my characters to get a deeper sense of who they are, but I usually start at the point of a problem in the plot and move outward from there. It keeps me focused on the direction of the plot, while allowing me to explore relevant possibilities with the characters as well.

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    1. Not every brainstorming technique fits every writer's style. This technique is more useful for character-driven stories in which what happens grows organically from who the people are and how they would react to certain stimuli. It's interesting to hear how a plot-driven approach would come at character building.

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  3. I have a new story idea bouncing around in my head, but I have absolutely zero character thoughts yet for it, so this looks perfect for developing a new character (or two).

    What I need for two characters in a book that I'm revising is more situational development. Like, what kind of situation could i put them in that would show both their characters?

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    1. Good idea, Margo! I'll have to dream up some more plot/character development questions when I work up this section for the book I'm working on. You blogging buddies have been great test lab subjects! :-D

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  4. This is perfect timing for me. I'm teaching a workshop and could use some of these. Thanks so much.

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    1. You're most welcome. The associations and attitudes questions are essential for creating a character's voice, while some of the experience questions help with compelling backstory and the relationships questions help develop interpersonal plot complications.

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