The other week I wrote a guest post about a film that gets away with not developing its protagonist. However, that tends to be the exception to the rule. Normally, it’s a good idea to spend some time developing your characters. You want to know as much as you can about your main and supporting characters and see what makes them tick.
A great way to get started is with a character questionnaire. There are dozens of these on the internet, and I’ve listed a few below. Questionnaires can range for simple characteristics (hair color, favorite song), to detailed life-histories of your characters. I like to scan these forms for questions that gets me excited. It’s always different from character to character, one question might be relevant to my protagonist, while another gets me thinking in a new way about the villain.
Over time, I’ve found that there are a few questions I like to go back to over and over again. For me, these are the ones that cut through the fluff and get to the real guts of my character.
Favorite questions that help to develop character in regards to story and plot:
- What is your character’s controlling belief?
- What is your character’s biggest fear?
- What is your character’s great weakness?
- What does your character need?
- Who is your character hurting at the opening of the story?
- What is your character’s moral need (this will relate to who they are hurting)?
- What is the crisis or problem your character is in at the opening of the story (before the inciting incident or any other events occur)?
- What is the “ghost,” wound, or hole in your character’s heart? (Something that happened in the past that affects their actions today and may or may not be related to their weakness/fear).
- What is your character’s obsession? Why are they obsessed with it?
- What is your character’s external goal?
- What is your character’s self revelation? What do they learn at the end of the story?
- What does your character believe or think they know at the opening of the story?
- How is your character wrong about what they believe at the opening of the story?
- How does the story world reflect your character’s needs, desires, fears, or challenge their weaknesses?
- What is your character’s Inciting Incident? (This is an event that connects need and desire, and jump starts the hero out of paralysis and into action). What would cause them to act?
- Who are your character’s allies? And what do those characters want for themselves?
- Who are your character’s opponents? Who wants to stop the hero from getting what he wants and why? What does the opponent want? Is he/she competing for the same thing?
- What are the opponent’s values and how do they differ from the hero’s?
Favorite questions that help to get to the heart of your character:
- How does your character relate to other human beings? Why?
- What’s his/her relationship with their family (mom, dad, siblings), friends, co-workers?
- What/who does your character love? Why?
- What/who does your character hate? Why?
- What does your character view as his/her greatest failure?
- What does your character view as his/her greatest success?
- In what way does your character feel the world has wronged them?
- What’s your character’s greatest strength? And weakness?
- Who does your character think they are better than?
- Who/what do they think they will never live up to?
- What traits does your character value/respect in others?
- What causes your character shame?
- Who does your character trust?
- What are your character’s religious and political views? And what affect do they have on their actions/way of life?
- If your character could change one thing about themself, what would it be?
- What does your character lie about when they meet other people?
- What’s your character’s motto?
Other fun questionnaires to check out:
- 100 Character Development Questions for Writers
- Gotham Writer’s Character Questions
- Lobotomy of a Writer: Epic Character Questionnaire
- Scribd Character Questions
- The Script Lab Character Questionnaire