As stated in a previous post, hand in hand with creating a strong premise for your story, developing believable characters to fill your imaginary world is an essential part of constructing fiction. The best way for your audience to identify with characters lies in your ability to understand them fully, and the best way for you to accomplish this is to talk to them, or better yet, ask them a series of questions. It’s important that you don’t allow them be evasive and certainly do not take no for an answer.
Don’t worry, you won’t be asking them complicated things like their strategy on balancing the nation’s budget, why the burning sun doesn’t incinerate itself, or how do you solve a problem like Maria? The list of questions below are relatively basic, some which have occurred to you and others that most likely haven’t. And even though most of their answers aren’t particularly relevant to your story and probably won’t come up in conversation, it will aid you in understanding the inner workings of their nonexistent minds.
You’ll notice that the questions have been broken up into bite-sized nuggets, thus making the task of developing your characters less insurmountable, and offering you a coffee or ciggie butt break between your interrogation, should you need it. Now, without further ado:
101 Character Development Questions (grill ‘em like a steak!)
Character Development Questions #1 – The Basics
These are the first questions you need to answer about your character – the stuff you probably need to know to get started.
- Approximate height?
- Approximate weight?
- Hair color?
- Eye color?
- Skin tone?
- Do they speak with an accent?
- Where are they from?
- Where are they now?
Character Development Questions #2 – Backstory
Developing a solid backstory for your characters is essential – even if you don’t put much or any of it in the narrative. The more you treat your character as though they are a real person, the more real they’ll become.
- Who are their parents? Biologically and socially.
- What is their earliest memory?
- What did they want to be when they grew up?
- What did/do their parents want them to be?
- Do they have siblings? Older or younger? Brothers or sisters?
- Do they have or have they ever had children? How many?
- Do they or have ever had a significant other? Are they still with them? Why? Why not?
- What were they doing right before the story starts?
- Up until now, what’s the most noteworthy thing they’ve done? To them? To the people around them?
- What was their education like?
Character Development Questions #3 – Tastes
Your characters likes and dislikes is possibly the most overt part of ‘who they are’.
- What’s your character’s favorite color?
- Do they/would they choose to wear a scent? What would it be?
- Do they care about what things look like? All things, or only some?
- What’s their favorite ice cream flavor?
- Are they a tea, or coffee drinker? Or soft drinks, or do they drink a lot of alcohol? What kind?
- What kind of books do they read? What TV shows and movies do they watch?
- What kind of music do they like? Do they like music at all?
- If they were about to die, what would they have as their last meal?
- Are they hedonistic? In all cases? Or does practicality sometimes/always/often win out?
- Do they have any philias or phobias?
Character Development Questions #4 – Morals, Beliefs, and Faith
A character’s moral code and beliefs can offer a lot of insights on their motives, and the likelihood of their taking a given course of action.
- Do they have an internal (something that they’ve come up with for themselves) or an external (something handed to them via religion, family traits, etc.) moral code?
- To what extent are their actions dictated by this code?
- Do they believe in a God or Gods/Goddesses/Higher being of some description?
- Are they superstitious?
- Do they value faith/instinct more highly than reason?
- Do they believe in an afterlife? If so, what’s it like?
- Do they have any specific beliefs that manifest obviously?
- Are the respectful of the beliefs of others? To what extent?
- Have they ever had to stand up to criticism for being religious? Or not being religious?
- Would they be more likely to act for the good of the one, or the good of the many?
Character Development Questions #5 – Relationships
It would be difficult to write a character who never interacted with anyone else. We learn more about a character from the way other people react to them than by their actions alone.
- Do they make friends easily?
- Do they have a best friend?
- Can they get people to do what they want them to? If so, how?
- Do they have a lot of romantic relationships? Serious, or short term?
- Do they fall in and out of love easily?
- Do strangers and acquaintances actually like them when they meet?
- Do they have a network (people they’re connected to without necessarily knowing)?
- What is their relationship like with their family?
- Are they still in touch with non-family people they were in touch with a year ago? Five years? Ten? More?
- Do they like children? Do they want children of their own?
Character Development Questions #6 – Physical Appearance
Time to play dress up!
- How does this character dress? How would they choose to dress, if all options were open to them?
- Do they have any tattoos? What do they mean?
- Do they have piercings? How many? Is this culturally appropriate for them?
- Do they have scars? Where did they come from?
- Do they alter their appearance in some way on a regular basis (make up, hair dye, etc.)?
- Is there something they’d choose to change about their appearance if they had the opportunity to?
- Is there something about their appearance they’re particularly proud of/happy with?
- Objectively, are they physically attractive? Fairly plain? Unattractive?
- Do they have an accurate mental picture and opinion of their physical appearance?
- How much time do they spend thinking about their physical appearance?
Character Development Questions #7 – General Knowledge
How well acquainted is your character with the world around them?
- Can they navigate their own local area without getting lost? To what degree?
- Do they know who the top politician or monarch is where they live? What about elsewhere?
- Do they know if/where there are any major conflicts going on right now?
- Do they know the composition of water?
- Do they know how to eat a pomegranate (or any other tricky item of food)?
- Are they good with the technology available to them? Average? Completely hopeless?
- Could they paint a house… without making a mess of it?
- Could they bake a cake? Would you eat it if they did?
- Do they know how to perform basic maintenance on the common mode of transportation?
- Do they know the price of a loaf of bread?
Character Development Questions #8 – Specific Knowledge
What about special skills?
- Do they have a specific qualification in a narrow area?
- Is there something they do or know exceptionally well that most other people don’t?
- Do people often comment on a particular skill or area of knowledge to this character? Behind their back?
- Is there an area this character could be considered top of their field or a genius in?
- Have they deliberately sought to gain knowledge in a specific area? If so, why?
- Do they speak more than one language? More than two? Why?
- Does their cultural background effect what they would be expected to know?
- Have they ever been publicly acknowledged for being well-versed in something?
- Have they ever been bullied for knowing a lot about something?
- Do they actively seek new knowledge, or let it come to them naturally?
Character Development Questions #9 – “What if…” Questions
These questions are designed to give you a different perspective on why certain things are important about your character – or why they’re not.
- What if they’d been born with a different biological sex?
- What if they’d have more or less siblings?
- What if a key formative event in their past had gone differently?
- What if they lost a limb?
- What if someone close to them died unexpectedly?
- What if they’d been born 50 years earlier? 100 years? 1000?
- What if they’d done something completely different on the morning when the story starts?
- What if they found enough money to make them wealthy for the rest of their life in a bag?
- What if they were stranded and deserted?
- What if they were betrayed by someone they trusted?
Character Development Questions #10 – Miscellany
These are just questions that any real person would likely be able to answer, but a fictional character often can’t.
- What did they have for breakfast this morning?
- What ridiculous beliefs did they have as a child?
- Do they like marshmallow treats?
- Do they sleep on their side, front, or back?
- Do they work better with sound or silence?
- Do they have a strange obsession with something minor?
- Do they like art?
- How fast can they run?
- Do they prefer to sit on the floor or on a chair?
- What do they want, right now?
Question 101 – Why Should Give A Tinker’s Damn About Your Character?
Don’t get offended, it’s a valid question. What makes your character interesting? Am I supposed to like them, or hate them? Why?
Congrats! You’ve made it to the end of the tedious, yet invaluable character question list. Hopefully it helps. Now stop standing around here gawking. Sally forth and be writeful.
Enjoy your holiday weekend (and you really should have invited me over for barbeque. Next year, eh?)