Writing advice blog: developing your characters with a character questionnaire

Susie Helme

Photo by Anne Nygård on Unsplash

Here are some questions to get you thinking about your Protagonist’s character. This is not to say that you should work all this info into your text—God, forbid! This is merely an exercise for you, the author, to really get deep into the mindset of your character so you can make them interesting to the reader.

  • Name, age, gender, occupation, social group
  • Family, partner, close friends, workmates. Who’s important and why? What drives these relationships? What activities do they do with each of these people?
  • Desires, motives, fears. What makes them happy? What are they afraid of?
  • Appearance. What do they look like? What are their hands like? What style of clothes do they wear? How do they wear their hair? What do they look like to a stranger sitting in a bar? What do they look like to their lover lying in bed? What does their appearance say about their character?
  • Attitudes. What are their politics? Are they a risk-taker? A party animal?
  • Backstory. What do we need to know about their childhood? First marriage? Did they do anything awful in their youth? Have they ever fallen off a horse? What was their first experience of snow? Who did they have a crush on as an adolescent?
  • Reputation and stereotypes. Is there anything people assume about them, a dumb blonde? A hick? Is this reputation deserved?
  • Habits and skills. Are they tidy? Do they go to the gym? Do they read Russian novels? Do they fidget? Drum the desk with their pencil? Are they good at maths? Play the guitar?
  • When is their birthday? Is there some prized present they once received?
  • What is their general disposition? Are they frowny? Or are they smiley?
  • Where do they live?
  • What do they eat?
  • How do they dress? Do they dress to impress? Do they dress in a way that is appropriate for their age, or do they dress to look younger or older than they are?
  • What major experiences have they had in their lives? Have they had any traumatic experiences?
  • Did they have a bad childhood? Or did they have a good childhood suddenly destroyed by a traumatic event?
  • What are their ruminations? Do they have any obsessions?
  • Are they in love?
  • Do they have any pets?
  • Do they have any medical conditions?
  • What do they like to do in their spare time? (Do they have any spare time?)
  • What are their friends like?
  • What are their hobbies?
  • What they are most embarrassed by?
  • Where they went on their first date? (And with whom?)
  • Do they floss every morning in front of the mirror? Do they get toothpaste on the sink?
  • Does she have a nickname? What did she do to earn it? Does it refer to her appearance? Her attitude? How does she feel about it?
  • Choose one event from your character’s past and elaborate on that. For example, your hero has a back injury from an accident while he was in the navy. Does he move differently now? Do people treat him differently? What are the psychological repercussions of the accident?
  • Choose one of your main character’s personality traits and list the ways that it’s expressed. If your sidekick is nervous, he might bounce his knee when he’s sitting, pluck at his sleeves, or startle easily.
  • What space has your character created for themselves? This can be offstage: a bedroom, an expensive car with all the right gadgets, the perfectly-stocked kitchen, a private office. Describe your character in that space.
  • What embarrassing thing happened to them on holiday?
  • Are they afraid of public speaking?
  • What makes them different from every other person?

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