Thirty Questions I Ask When Developing Characters
Published on Oct 14, 2018 by Alys Murray
Let's face it. Characters are hard. Deciding to write about one is hard. Coming up with a name is hard. Making them do stuff and have that stuff matter is hard. Characters are hard because people are hard; characters are difficult because people are difficult. In real life, people are complex and varied and while small glimpses and interactions aren't enough to explain who they are, who they are defines how they operate in those small glimpses and interactions.
So, when I'm developing a character for a new book, I like to go off-script. While there are tons of websites that will give you development questions like "what is their favorite color" and "what are their fears," I like to also think about those little, small, tiny details that may never come up in my story, but that could absolutely define a character. Today, I wanted to share some of those questions with you!
- Do they wear socks in bed? Would they want to sleep in the same bed as someone who does? Why or why not?
- What Hogwarts House would they sort themselves into? What Hogwarts House would they actually be in? If the answers are different, what causes them to see themselves different than how they actually are?
- Do they think hotdogs are sandwiches? Why or why not?
- How would they answer The Trolley Problem?
- How long could they play a single game of Monopoly before giving up out of boredom or throwing a temper tantrum and leaving the game in a fit of anger?
- What is (or would be) their favorite ride at Disney World or a similar theme park? Why?
- Would they rather shiver or sweat? Why?
- Are they a "Happy Holidays," or "Merry Christmas" kind of person? Why?
- Regular milk, milk substitute, chocolate milk, strawberry milk or no milk? Why?
- Star Wars, Star Trek, Neither or Both? Why? (Nota Bene: This one can also be a variation, like would they rather have a lightsaber, a sword or a phaser?)
- If they had to watch one movie for twenty-four hours straight, what would it be and why?
- What's that one movie from their childhood that they know doesn't hold up, but they can't help but love it anyway and will defend it to the death from anyone who says it's not good anymore?
- Do they vote? Why or why not? And if the answer is no, do they realize that their answer is stupid?
- What book is on their bedside table right now and are they actually reading it? If they aren't actively reading it, why is it still on their bedside table?
- Will they eat raw cookie dough? Why or why not?
- Do they think the Hades and Persephone myth is romantic/cool or dark and weird?
- What's their position on plastic straws?
- What's the one story that they tell over and over again but they get so excited when they tell it that no one has the heart to say, "yeah, we know, we've heard this one a million times?"
- Halloween or Christmas?
- Do they love seeing the last stars disappear in the morning or seeing the first stars come out at night?
- Do they love the smell of fire? Why or why not?
- Did they ever read or watch Winnie the Pooh as a kid? If so, what was the biggest lesson they learned?
- On the Winnie the Pooh note, what character do they most identify with? Why? What character would other people identify them as? Why?
- What would they do if a flight attendant spilled a full drink in their lap?
- What is their opinion on crowdfunding?
- Are they Lifetime people or Hallmark people?
- What was the last show they stayed up all night watching? (Or book they stayed up all night reading, album they spent a week listening to, etc.)
- Are they the kind of person who leaves a sporting event if their team is winning by a huge margin (or, conversely, if their team is being blown out)?
- Would they watch a scary movie on their own?
- Stairs, escalators, or elevators?
All of these questions may seem silly, but they can (and have!) generated really interesting characters and exciting developments in my stories! It's the little things that make up people and their quirks and personalities. The same thing is true of characters.