When I first started writing stories, I quickly became stuck. I decided to fill in a character questionnaire because I had read somewhere that it was a good idea. What a revelation for me. Although it was time-consuming, I became inspired and I started to think about my hero as a real person instead of the stick figure I was creating.
We have a one-page character profile in our course workbook to get writers started, and we have a longer, detailed 11-page character questionnaire for delegates who take our Writers Write course.
I suggest that writers complete a detailed character profile for their protagonist and their antagonist and a shorter version for the protagonist’s beat friend and love interest. Do this before you start writing your novel. You may never use all the information, but you will be amazed at how much more you do have to draw on, and you will not get stuck.
Writing Tip: Complete this questionnaire for yourself if you’re writing a memoir. Even if you’re not writing a memoir, fill it in to find out how well you think you know yourself.
From The Script Lab
50 Questions To Help You Create A Character For Your Novel.
- How does your character think of their father? What do they hate and love about him? What influence – literal or imagined – did the father have?
- Their mother? How do they think of her? What do they hate? Love? What influence – literal or imagined – did the mother have?
- Brothers, sisters? Who do they like? Why? What do they despise about their siblings?
- What type of discipline was your character subjected to at home? Strict? Lenient?
- Were they overprotected as a child? Sheltered?
- Did they feel rejection or affection as a child?
- What was the economic status of their family?
- How does your character feel about religion?
- What about political beliefs?
- Is your character street-smart, book-smart, intelligent, intellectual, slow-witted?
- How do they see themselves: as smart, as intelligent, uneducated?
- How does their education and intelligence – or lack thereof – reflect in their speech pattern, vocabulary, and pronunciations?
- Did they like school? Teachers? Schoolmates?
- Were they involved at school? Sports? Clubs? Debate? Were they unconnected?
- Did they graduate? High-School? College?
- What does your character do for a living? How do they see their profession? What do they like about it? Dislike?
- Did they travel? Where? Why? When?
- What did they find abroad, and what did they remember?
- What were your character’s deepest disillusions? In life? What are they now?
- What were the most deeply impressive political or social, national or international, events that they experienced?
- What are your character’s manners like? What is their type of hero? Whom do they hate?
- Who are their friends? Lovers? ‘Type’ or ‘ideal’ partner?
- What do they want from a partner? What do they think and feel of sex?
- What social groups and activities does your character attend? What role do they like to play? What role do they actually play, usually?
- What are their hobbies and interests?
- What does your character’s home look like? Personal taste? Clothing? Hair? Appearance?
- How do they relate to their appearance? How do they wear their clothing? Style? Quality?
- Who is your character’s mate? How do they relate to him or her? How did they make their choice?
- What is your character’s weaknesses? Hubris? Pride? Controlling?
- Are they holding on to something in the past? Can he or she forgive?
- Does your character have children? How do they feel about their parental role? About the children? How do the children relate?
- How does your character react to stress situations? Defensively? Aggressively? Evasively?
- Do they drink? Take drugs? What about their health?
- Does your character feel self-righteous? Revengeful? Contemptuous?
- Do they always rationalise errors? How do they accept disasters and failures?
- Do they like to suffer? Like to see other people suffering?
- How is your character’s imagination? Daydreaming a lot? Worried most of the time? Living in memories?
- Are they basically negative when facing new things? Suspicious? Hostile? Scared? Enthusiastic?
- What do they like to ridicule? What do they find stupid?
- How is their sense of humour? Do they have one?
- Is your character aware of who they are? Strengths? Weaknesses? Idiosyncrasies? Capable of self-irony?
- What does your character want most? What do they need really badly, compulsively? What are they willing to do, to sacrifice, to obtain?
- Does your character have any secrets? If so, are they holding them back?
- How badly do they want to obtain their life objectives? How do they pursue them?
- Is your character pragmatic? Think first? Responsible? All action? A visionary? Passionate? Quixotic?
- Is your character tall? Short? What about size? Weight? Posture? How do they feel about their physical body?
- Do they want to project an image of a younger, older, more important person? Does they want to be visible or invisible?
- How are your character’s gestures? Vigorous? Weak? Controlled? Compulsive? Energetic? Sluggish?
- What about voice? Pitch? Strength? Tempo and rhythm of speech? Pronunciation? Accent?
- What are the prevailing facial expressions? Sour? Cheerful? Dominating?