When writing a character it is always helpful to ask yourself questions about him/her. Coming up with answers to those questions helps shape the person you are creating into a more three dimensional being. I combined a list of helpfull questions on this page. Sources for much of the information are the following books: Writing the Character-Centered Screenplay by Andrew Horton, The Art of Dramatic Writing by Lajos Egri, and The Book of Questions by Gregory Stock, Ph.D.
Basic Attributes Edit
- Given Name:
- hair color/style
- eye color
- clothing style
- Physical abilities/limitations:
- Socioeconomic class/standing:
- Place of birth:
- Place and time of story:
- Parents' profiles
- socioeconomic level:
- quality of relationship with child(ren):
- Brothers/sisters/significant-other relatives (profile each)
- socioeconomic level:
- quality of relationship:
- Family structure/life:
Brief Life Story Edit
It is very important to write a biography for your character. The more detail you create, the deeper you can make your character, and this rich history will be such a rich source of information that it will change and evolve your story accordingly.
Make sure to keep in mind:
- How did your character get here from there?
- What was their life like before the story began?
- What was growing up like for them?
- Did they have a good or bad childhood?
- What struggles have that had, or hardships they have overcome?
- Has their life worked out like they expected?
- Has their life been difficult or easy until now?
- Were they forced into their current path, or are they here by choice?
- Do they have regrets?
- What special circumstances have made them into who they are today?
- Did anything happen in their past that they cannot forget or live down, or that has deeply changed them or scarred them in some way? (warning: do not create cheap Freudian backstory as motivation for your characters! i.e. "His mother beat him as a child, and now he hates all women." "She was once robbed at gunpoint, and now has a irrational fear of guns." People are more complex than this. If such a traumatic event happened in their lives, then make the psychological or emotional consequence unexpected rather than exactly what any five-year-old would instantly assume.)
- Outer Goal (physical):
- Inner Goal (psychological/emotional):
- Life, career, or personal goals outside of the realm of the story:
- Defining characteristic:
- Dirty Secrets:
- Introvert or extrovert?:
- More thinking or feeling?:
- What do you see is the biggest contradiction(s) your character lives out?:
- Tends to be self centered? Selfish? Selfless?:
- Favorite and hated foods/drinks:
- Education or important learning experiences:
- Most hated activities:
- Most enjoyed activities:
- Deepest secret or wildest fantasy:
- Sense (or lack!) of humor: what makes your character laugh?
- Who is your character's hero, or who do they admire or emulate?
Philosophy & Morality Edit
- Attitudes toward:
- the world
- Political philosophy:
- public causes supported/protested:
- politically active/apathetic:
- Catchphrase that defines their worldview? (examples: "What goes around comes around." "Live fast, die young, and leave a beautiful corpse." etc.):
Life & Lifestyle Edit
- Closest friend(s):
- Attitude towards job:
- Noted accomplishments:
- Clubs/organizations belonged to:
- Favorite music or group/favorite TV shows or films:
Food for Thought Edit
- How would your character react to:
- Inheriting $1 million:
- The death of a loved one:
- A natural disaster: hurricane/earthquake, etc.:
- Being fired:
- Meeting an old friend or enemy not seen for years:
- Having or raising children:
- Being raped/mugged/violated in some way:
- An unexpected kindness or compliment:
- A serious illness such as AIDS or cancer:
- A flat tire on the expressway:
- An interracial relationship:
- Five minutes on local or national TV:
From The Book of Questions Edit
A further source of great questions to ask your characters is the brilliant work The Book of Questions. This is filled with juicy and thought-provoking questions that explore personal philosophy, morality, politics, knee-jerk reactions, secret fantasies, wishes, and much more. It's also a great party activity to sit around with your friends and pass the book around as you each take turns selecting questions for all to answer.
A. If your character were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would they most regret not having told someone? Why haven't they told them yet?
B. Would your character accept $1,000,000 to leave the county and never set foot in it again?
C. Your character is given the power to kill people simply by thinking of their deaths and twice repeating the word "good-bye." People would die a natural death and no one would suspect them. Are there any situations in which they would use this power? [If they can imagine themselves killing someone indirectly, could they still see doing it if they had to look into the person's eyes and stab the person to death? Have they ever genuinely wanted to kill someone or wished them dead?]
D. What would constitute a "perfect" evening for your character?
E. Would your character rather be extremely successful professionally and have a tolerable yet unexciting private life, or have an extremely happy private life and only a tolerable and uninspiring professional life? [Since so many people place great emphasis on a happy private life, why do people often wind up putting more energy into their professional lives? If you feel that their private life is more important to your character, do their priorities support this? Are they simply unwilling to admit that work is more important? Do they use work as a substitute? Do they hope professional success will somehow magically lead to personal happiness?]
F. If your character could wake up tomorrow having gained any one ability or quality, what would it be?
G. Your character has the chance to meet someone with whom they can have the most satisfying love imaginable - the stuff of dreams. Sadly, they know that in six months the person will die. Knowing that pain that would follow, would they still want to meet that person and fall in love? What if they knew their lover would not die, but instead would betray them? [In love, is intensity or permanence more important to them? How much do they expect from someone who loves them? What would make them feel betrayed by their mate - indifference? Dishonesty? Infidelity?
H. Does your character prefer being around men or women? Do their closest friends tend to be men or women?
I. Would your character be willing to murder an innocent person if it would end hunger in the world? [Would it torment them more to have the blood of an innocent person on their hands or to know they let millions of people die? What do they think of people who achieve great things by compromising their principles? Many are will to give their own lives but not to take the life of another; is anything so important they would sacrifice their very soul for it?]
J. What is their most treasured memory?
K. If your character knew there would be a nuclear war in one week, what would they do?
L. What is the greatest accomplishment of your character's life? Is there anything they hope to do that is even better?
M. One would be the one material item your character would save during a fire?
N. Your character is offered $1,000,000 for the following act: before them are ten pistols - only one of which is loaded. They must pick up one of the pistols, point it at their forehead, and pull the trigger. If they can walk away they do so a millionaire. Would they accept the risk?
O. If your character could choose the manner of their death, what would it be? [Would they die a hero's death, die a martyr to some great cause, die in a natural catastrophe, or die peacefully? Why is it so tempting to have death catch us in our sleep?]
P. For what in your character's life do they feel most grateful?
Q. How forgiving is your character?
R. When your character tells a story, do they often exaggerate or embellish it? If so, why?
S. How much does your character feel in control of the course of their life?
T. Is it easy for your character to ask for help when they need it? Will they ask for help?
U. Would your character like to be famous? In what way?
V. What are your character's most compulsive habits? Do they regularly struggle to break those habits?
W. What does your character strive for most in their life: accomplishment, security, love, power, excitement, knowledge, or something else?
X. How easily embarrassed is your character?
Y. Does the fact that your character has never done something before increase or decrease its appeal to them?
Z. How many different sexual partners has your character had in their life? Would they prefer to have had more or fewer?