20 Questions To Ask Yourself When Developing Fictional Characters
With many plates to spin at once whilst writing or planning a novel, it can be hard to balance everything when you're trying to do eighty things at once. One of your core priorities should always be character insight and development; but I often find that authors neglect this by accident when focusing on perfecting their plot or increasing pace and tension. So I’ve developed 20 key questions to ask yourself to help reform those half-baked characters into more complex fully-fledged personas.
I recommend this exercise for anyone who is about you embark on a writing journey, or anyone who is at the early editing stage, so kick off your shoes, grab your pen, and take a figurative walk in the shoes of your character with me.
1. What's the best/worst piece of criticism that your character has ever received?
This about what piece of criticism (positive or negative) may have driven your character to act for better or worse. Why do you think they internalised this piece of criticism in particular?
2. How does your character react to change?
Think about how they may respond differently to big or small change, and what they would deem the biggest change for them.
3. What are your character's trigger points?
Think about what provokes them to react (negatively or positively), perhaps without them even knowing.
4. What is their most prominent childhood memory?
It can be something mundane or something horrific, but the memories that we store and prioritise says a lot about a particular character, as does how we shape them to be replayed in our minds.
5. What traits do they bring out or exaggerate in other characters?
It may seem obvious, but thinking about and illustrating the effects different characters can have on each other is one of the best ways that you delve into the workings of the characters minds, emotions and reactions.
6. How would they score on a personality test?
Would your character more of a type a or type b personality? And more importantly, how self-aware are they about their character type? Try carrying out a test from the perspective of your character and from yours to gauge how your opinions may differ.
7. Does your character have an internal or external locus of control?
You can learn what I mean by an internal or external locus of control here, and I recommend familiarising yourself with their definitions, as understanding a character's specific locus of control and where they fare within it is great information to know, particularly in relation to the next questions.
8. When faced with a stressful scenario, how does your character respond?
Do they react internally or externally? Do they react violently or silently? Ask yourself how resilient your character is.
9. What does your character react to/not react to that most others would/wouldn't?
Does your character get anxious or excited over things or scenarios that your average Joe wouldn’t bat an eyelid at?
10. What are your character's coping mechanisms?
Do they seek the assistance or comfort from themselves, or from others? Thing beyond fight or flight and generic 'stressful' scenarios, how does your character react to their own unique threats and what are these threats?
11. What does your character's happiness rely on?
Do they rely on their own opinion for their happiness, or others? What has the potential to give them satisfaction, and what has the potential to cause it to be denied?
12. What is 'normal' about your character?
Ask yourself what your character would deem to be 'normal', and why they think they are 'normal' in this regard. You can also reverse this insight, and explore what others may deem 'normal' about your character that the character may not necessarily agree with.
13. What is 'different' about your character?
Ask yourself what your character would deem to be 'different' and ask yourself why they think they are 'different'. As with the question above, you can reverse this to explore what others may deem 'different' about your character based on their own unique assertions about what is 'normal' and 'different'.
14. What does your character believe their defining feature is?
I don't mean a physically defining feature (although a character may feel their life is defined or governed by a physical feature such as an illness), but a trait. Is it their strength? Their kindness? Their anger?
15. What do other characters believe your character's defining features are?
Again, we're not necessarily talking physical features.
16. What traits in a friend/partner/enemy does your character look for, and how do these conflict with/compliment their own?
Do they look for common features like, or do they see anyone with a similar personality to them and see them as a threat?
17. If your character could choose any time period and place to live in, when/where would it be?
What about the time or place that the character feels they could have belonged to appeals to them?
18. What does your character have in common with their mother/father?
This can begin or end with the basics, such as: last name, eyes, nose. Think about the nature/nurture debate here and ask yourself where your character fares on this when it comes to their similarities/disimilarities to their mother and/or father.
19. What does you character have in common with their enemy/enemies?
A goal? A personality trait? A jacket?
20. What does your character love?
This could be anything from chocolate brownies to justice.
Remember: A character is a culmination of all that has happened to them in the past and everything that is happening to them in the present. Characters are not static; and whilst a reader needn’t bare witness to a characters entire life, a reader does need to some evolution or devolution in order to believe that a character is 'real'.
I hope you find the questions above helpful, and even if you do not include these insights in your writing, the knowledge that they will provide you with about your character will help prepare you to flesh them out.
So grab your pen and go and kill it, darlings!
If you still struggling to give life to your characters or need a second pair of eyes to help give an unbiased review of your characters so far, my Half a Person package for fiction takes an analytical look at the psychology of your characters, and points out where and how you could develop them into a fully realised persona.