Craft,  Creativity,  Inspiration

Take 5 Friday: Five Questions To Ask Your Characters

Last week, I encouraged you to ask yourself a few questions about your writing so you could ensure that your practice still met your goals.

This week’s questions are for your characters and while they probably won’t take as much soul-searching, they will require some imagination.

I use questions like the ones below to round out my knowledge of my characters in my short stories, novels, short plays, and in the mystery games that I write. 

Sometimes I end up using the answers to “show” my characters to my audience. Sometimes, the answers just help me to figure out how my characters would behave or react in a given situation.

Even if you don’t anticipate using the answers directly, questions like these can help you connect with your characters and bring them to life. 

In the worst case scenario, these questions are an exercise in imagination so why not try interviewing your character(s) and see what comes out?

 (And yes, I know that you can’t literally interview imaginary people but the process of inventing the answers will deepen your knowledge of your characters. And you will feel what kind of answers are exactly right or just plain wrong.) 

Background image: a stack of books, a cup of coffee, an alarm clock and an antique typewriter. Foreground: a yellow circle containing the 10 minute novelists logo and the text 'Take 5 Friday: Five Questions to Ask Your Characters'

  1. What story from your childhood have you told everyone?

The stories that people choose to tell about themselves can be very revealing. They may portray themselves as heroes or as victims, depending on how they see themselves (or how they need the story to serve them in the moment.)

Perhaps your character’s story reveals something bizarre or horrific about their childhood that they see as perfectly normal.  Their story may show the origins of some of their current attitudes. Maybe it shows that they have always had certain personality traits. 

Whether the story is profound or absurd, knowing what they would tell and thinking about why they would choose to tell that specific tale can give you real insight into their motivations and perspectives.

  1. What are the most important parts of your daily routine?

This question will show you some of your character’s values and some of the things that they consider important. That information can be useful for shaping (and understanding) how they approach the challenges that you will put before them throughout the story. 

Having a sense of their routine, especially the parts that they NEED to complete, will also give you opportunities to include some of those details in your story. It also gives you an opportunity to upset their routines and cause them distress which could be useful for your plot.

  1. If you had to teach something, what would it be?

Figuring out what your character could and would teach is an interesting thought process – and don’t limit them to practical (or legal) things.  The answers to this question will not only give you insight into your character’s experience and background but it will also show you what they feel confident about. All of that information could be useful for demonstrating character growth and for understanding their motivations.

  1. What do you read, listen to, or watch regularly?

I chose to include three types of entertainment in this question so it could apply to a broad range of characters. 

By figuring out what sorts of entertainment your character enjoys (or hates!), you get all kinds of clues to their personality and their history. You can invent all kinds of reasons why they choose certain types of entertainment and you can add details about their music, movies, or books to help you pace some of your scenes.

  1. When you go to a restaurant, do you order the same thing all the time or do you experiment?

Personally, I tend to order from a limited range of items but it’s not because of the food itself. If I choose a familiar item, I can focus on enjoying the company instead of overthinking my meal. If I were a character in your book, that would probably be a very revealing detail and could easily be misunderstood. 

Your characters may have all kinds of different reasons for the choices they make from a restaurant menu. Exploring their meal selections and the reasons behind them will give you a wide range of information about them. Even if you don’t have any restaurant scenes in your book, you can use their perceived fussiness or their meat-and-potatoes approach in other contexts and give your readers a chance to connect with your characters.

*****

You don’t need to know every single thing about each of your characters in order to write a good story. However, you do need to know enough about them to make their goals and their actions make sense. Developing answers to questions like the ones above can help you view your characters as actual people rather than plot devices and that will enrich your writing and engage your readers. 

Write on!

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