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The Only Character Questionnaire You Need

The Only Character Questionnaire You Need


Writers Write is a resource for writers. Use this comprehensive character questionnaire when you create your characters. 

Creating Characters – From The Cradle To The Grave

I read a Facebook post a few days ago. Jane’s mother had died unexpectedly and she wanted her friends and family to know. The responses ranged from the reasonable to the unreal, and included:
  1. Condolence, such as ‘Thinking of you’ and ‘Sending you love’.
  2. Offers of help.
  3. Religious and/or spiritual assurances that Jane’s mother was in the arms of a variety of mythical beings.
  4. Certain knowledge that her mother was in a ‘better’ place.
  5. Sage assurances that Jane was learning an important life lesson and that she should embrace it.
  6. Reassurances that the writer understood exactly what Jane was going through and how Jane felt, going on to share their own experiences in detail.
  7. Suggestions for retreats, healers, therapists that Jane needed to try.

All of these tell us so much about the message writers than the person who died.

This made me think about how different we are and how obvious it is when we have to convey our support for life-changing events in words.

What isn’t obvious is how we got there. How did we end up on that page writing those different messages? It’s a long answer and it begins before we are even born.

The Only Character Questionnaire You Need

Complete this character questionnaire for your main characters even if you never use the information in your book. It will help you to see them as three-dimensional, nuanced beings who leave marks on many people’s lives.

If you are writing speculative fiction, adjust the questions for the worlds you create in science fiction, fantasy, or magic realism.

Before life 

Tell us about your character’s parents.
  1. Where were they born?
  2. Did they have happy childhoods?
  3. Were they wealthy, poor, comfortable?
  4. What was their social class?
  5. Were they well educated?
  6. What were the most important things that happened to them?
  7. Did they have any history of illness – physical or mental?
  8. Did any major world conflict or change in the world affect them?
  9. Were your character’s grandparents alive when he or she was born? Describe their relationship with the character’s parents.

After birth – baby 

  1. Was your character raised by one of these parents? One or both of them?
  2. If not, who was the caregiver? What was the relationship between the two of them? How did it affect your character?
  3. Into what circumstances is your character born?
  4. Are the character’s parents / caregivers happy with the sex of the child?
  5. What expectation do the character’s parents / caregivers have for this child?
  6. Does society expect something from the character?

The Only Character Questionnaire You Need

Becoming – childhood 

  1. Where do they live?
  2. Is your character considered plain, ugly, beautiful? Would the character agree with this assessment? How has this definition of their looks affected them?
  3. Does your character lose a parent/caregiver?
  4. Does something else happen that changes everything for him or her?
  5. How old is your character when this happens?
  6. How does this affect the character?
  7. Does his or her social status change during childhood? If it does, why does this happen and how does it affect the character?
  8. What is your character’s relationship with his or her caregivers like?
  9. Who does your character love most when he or she is a child?
  10. Do they have brothers or sisters? What are their names? Are they older or younger? How do these relationships affect them?
  11. Do they have relationships with any other family members?
  12. List the five most important things that happen to your character as a child. Tell us when they happened and describe how they affected him or her.  Did your character learn anything?
  13. Is your character an introverted or extroverted child?
  14. Is he or she popular?
  15. What interests, hobbies, and sports does your character enjoy?
  16. Is tradition / spirituality / religion an important part of your character’s life?
  17. Does your character do well at school?
  18. How do his or her teachers see the character?
  19. What is the character’s greatest fear?

Growing – adolescence

  1. As your character becomes a teenager, where does he or she live?
  2. How has the character’s life changed?
  3. Parents?
  4. Siblings?
  5. Friends?
  6. Love Interests?
  7. School?
  8. Social status?
  9. As your character’s sexuality becomes more fixed, does he or she fit into the norms of society? If not, how does he or she feel different?
  10. What words would you use to describe your character’s style? Dress sense?
  11. Who does he or she admire?
  12. Is there a genre of music/books/games that he or she enjoys?
  13. Is there anything that happens during these years that forces your character to mature more or less quickly?
  14. What is the character’s relationship with his or her caregivers like?
  15. Is your character independent?  Do the caregivers give him or her more or less freedom and responsibilities than the average teenager?
  16. Is your character prepared to become an adult?
  17. Who does your character love most during these years?
  18. Does your character know what he or she wants to do as an adult?
  19. List the five most important things that happen to your character as a teenager. Tell us when they happened and describe how they affected him or her. Did your character learn anything?
  20. What is the character’s greatest fear?

The Only Character Questionnaire You Need

Settling – adulthood 

  1. Did your character complete his or her education?
  2. What does your character do for a living?
  3. How has the character’s life changed?
  4. Life Partners?
  5. Children?
  6. Friends?
  7. Siblings?
  8. Parents?
  9. Social status?
  10. What goals does your character have?
  11. Is your character in a relationship? How many times has he or she been ‘in love’? How have these people influenced the character?
  12. How do they see the world? Is it different to when they were children or teenagers?
  13. List the five most important things that happen to your character as an adult. Tell us when they happened and describe how they affected him or her.  Did your character learn anything?
  14. Do they see patterns of behaviours that emerge through their lives?
  15. Is your character independent?
  16. Does he or she live alone or with somebody?
  17. Does your character have children?
  18. Write a bucket list for your character at 20, 30, 40, 50, 60. Does the list change? Has your character achieved any of the things on the list?
  19. What is your character’s favourite quotation?
  20. Does he or she have a motto?
  21. As your character reflects on everything that has happened, is there an interest from childhood that has endured and matured during his or her life?
  22. What is the character’s greatest fear?

Slowing down – old age 

  1. Have they accomplished their goals? How do they feel about them?
  2. How does the character’s life change?
  3. Life Partners?
  4. Children?
  5. Grandchildren?
  6. Siblings?
  7. Friends?
  8. Social status?
  9. Have they built strong relationships during adulthood? What is this family or support system like as they age?
  10. Who do they love most at this stage of their life?
  11. Are there patterns in their relationships with their children that were present in their relationships with their parents? Is there a ‘sins of the fathers’ theme that runs through their stories?
  12. How does your character want people to remember them?
  13. How do they react to the effects of ageing, illness, losing strength?
  14. What does your character think happens when we die?
  15. What is the character’s greatest fear?

The Only Character Questionnaire You Need

After life 

  1. Who is left after your character dies?
  2. How do these people remember your character?
  3. Has your character left a mark on the world?

You can add layers to this profile based on the character’s sociology and psychology. For example, the food they enjoy, the clothes they wear, the places they choose to live will evolve out of the progression of their lives.

Download your free questionnaire here: 94 Questions For The Characters We Create

More Resources: 9 Useful Character Questionnaires For Writers

Top Tip: If you want to learn how to write a book, sign up for our online course or join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg.

Amanda Patterson by Amanda Patterson

© Amanda Patterson

If you enjoyed this article, you will love:

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  3. Flip Your Characters To Twist A Plot

This article has 10 comments

  1. Atoosa Salimi

    Loved this ?
    Thank you

  2. Writers Write

    Thank you, Atoosa.

  3. Davonne Burns

    I appreciate that unlike a lot of character questionnaires this one does address sexuality. I would suggest one small change, if I may? After Birth – #4 perceived biological sex of the child does not relate to their gender. Does the character agree with their birth gender assignment? This can have minor to major impact on them from the time they are toddlers until adulthood depending on how they identify and how supportive their caregivers are to them.
    Thank you for compiling such a great list of insightful questions.

  4. Writers Write

    Thank you for the suggestion, Davonne. It is certainly something to consider in future posts and questionnaires.

  5. Roland Clarke

    Although I have a character template that I use, I am always looking for ways to improve it. This has a lot of excellent questions. Thank you.

  6. Tom Mullane

    Absolutely brilliant list, thank you

  7. ana ruiz

    Dear Amanda,
    My name is Ana Ruiz, I am a retired elementary and
    ESL teacher. I am 69 and I live in Costa Rica. I have followed
    you posts for a few years now. It is impossible for
    me to attend your workshops in Johannesburg, but
    would it be possible for you or any other of your facilitators
    to come down to Costa Rica. I belong
    of creative writing workshop and there is plenty
    of people here interested in writing.
    We will have to think in cost, accommodations, price and
    place. I will take care of all details concerning the organization.
    Please let me know if you are interested.
    Maybe it is not such a crazy idea.
    Regards,
    Ana

    Enviado desde mi iPhone

    > El 13 jun 2016, a las 11:52 p.m., Posthaven Posts escribió:

  8. abigail

    please send me this to my email inbox – very interesting.

  9. Writers Write

    Ana, please send this request to news@writerswrite.co.za

  10. ana ruiz

    Thank you!

    Enviado desde mi iPhone

    > El 19 jun 2016, a las 3:26 a.m., Posthaven Comments escribió:

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