Monthly Archives: July 2012

Essential Reading for Screenwriters

Here’s my recommendations:

Poetics by Aristotle

The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell

The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler

Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting by Syd Field

Story by Robert McKee

Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder

The 21st Century Screenplay by Linda Aronson

Doctor Who: The Writer’s Tale: The Final Chapeter by Russell T Davies and Benjamin Cook

The Insider’s Guide to Writing for Television by Julian Friedmann and Christopher Walker

If you know of others that have really helped you, let us know by adding a comment.

Don’t Denigrate Mainstream Drama Writers – Peter Bowker

Here’s the brilliant, insipring speech that Peter Bowker gave to open this year’s BBC TV Writers’ Festival:

Before I begin, before we begin what I hope will be two days of discovery and support and inspiration, I want to name the elephant in the room. When I’m faced with a room full of hungry, ambitious writers who are starting to make an impact with their work I am reminded of a Frank Skinner gag. He said that he never liked presenting the ‘Best Newcomer Award’  because he hated the part of him that wanted them to be shit.

Now I have got that out of the way I think we can proceed in the spirit of false bonhomie and solidarity and that such gatherings demand …

First I would like to show some clips. (Clips shown as follows : Z Cars, Rising Damp, Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads,  Brass, Coronation Street,  London’s Burning,  Minder,  Auf Weidersein Pet,  Soldier, Soldier and  Beiderbecke Affair.)

I chose those particular clips because I wanted to celebrate ambition in a strand of British drama I regard as every bit as significant and valuable as the social realist tradition that began with Cathy Come Home, continued through Boys From the Blackstuff, Hillsborough and Bloody Sunday, and thrives today in the work of Tony Marchant and Neil McKay to name but two.

I am not in any way denigrating this tradition, not least because Tony Marchant is involved in this very conference and he’s bigger and younger than me, although I have more hair.  In part, I am talking about ambition in mainstream drama in response to an article written by Mark Lawson last year in which he highlighted what he saw as wrong with British television drama. Amongst other things, was the fact that I had somehow strayed from the true path by attempting to write a medical series.

“It seems almost obligatory for UK drama series to involve either cops or docs: even Peter Bowker, one of our most original writers, has succumbed to the surgical-procedural with Monroe.”  Buried in this back handed complement was, I think, a common attitude: That writing genre or mainstream drama is automatically evidence of a lack of ambition.

So when Kate Rowland and Danny Brocklehurst tricked me into Chairing this event for the price of a pint of lager I decided it would be worth briefly bearing witness to the existence of genuine ambition in television works that form a parallel, maybe less celebrated tradition.

How brave, for instance, is the clip from Rising Damp. The conversation between Richard Beckinsdale and Don Warrington on Rigbsy’s couch about the fact that Richard Beckinsdale’s character has never had a black friend before and doesn’t have the language to express that to his black friend. A masterclass in how to use the unsayable in order to say everything. And it’s funny.

In the Likely Lads how poignant and real is Terry’s despairing line to Bob that if he goes down to London he might “catch the tail end” of the permissive society?  ‘Brass’ was deconstructing costume drama as far back as 1983. A masterful example of a drama that existed both as a comedic parody of the form and a compelling drama in its own right. Mad Men eat your heart out. You aren’t the first drama to have your cake and eat it.

These mainstream shows were dealing with race, class, social mobility, gender politics, family dynamic, and, in the case of Minder, deconstructing the values of the 1980s with an astonishingly forensic satire. In the case of Brass and the under-rated Lost in Austen, two comedy dramas take on the subject of storytelling itself.

Coronation Street, at its best, portrays the raw humour of family emotions with wit and dialogue that is on a par with Alan Ackybourn and Alan Bennett. Sally Wainwright’s Braithwaites dramatised the false hope of the lottery culture and Lucy Gannon’s Soldier, Soldier dealt with the politics of masculinity and class in a 9pm Monday night ITV show watched by millions.

I am making what may be considered grandiose claims for these dramas because I feel their popularity and humour has served to mask the ambition that sits at the heart of them. In fact, I would claim that Alan Plater and Jack Rosenthal are the two most influential television writers of the Golden generation that produced Alan Bleasdale, Troy Kennedy Martin and Dennis Potter.

I would argue that the latter three are such one-offs that although we have much to learn from them in terms of boldness, we have more to learn from Plater, Rosenthal and Clement and Le Frenais, about the template for returning series which, whatever anybody tells you, remains the absolute bedrock of television drama.

Alan Plater’s ‘Beiderbecke Affair’ was, on the surface, a gentle Sunday night caper serial about a man obsessed with the first great white jazz trumpet player, Bix Beiderbecke. But what Alan Plater managed to achieve over six hours on ITV in 1985 was a celebration of an alternative Britain. A Britain where teachers – one generation on from their working class forebears – struggled with good humour to educate working class children in a large Leeds comprehensive known as San Quentin High. Where the Police were befuddled by local allotment holders, where the Big Society was already at work, and it was called solidarity. Where the establishment was slyly undermined by those who knew that they were despised by Thatcherism. It is a masterpiece in its celebration of ordinary people who rebel in small ways against the dominant values of the age. A celebration of the drop outs and the non-achievers, and whisper it, public servants.

Nobody talks about these issues in Plater’s gentle, slow paced, funny, serial but it nevertheless skewered the values of the day just as effectively as Blackstuff’s Yosser Hughes. I would argue that it is actually more subversive in that nobody saw it coming. I am not saying that television wouldn’t be poorer without the anguished headbutt of Yosser Hughes or the open wounds of Dennis Potter’s Philip Marlowe but that there is a neglected mainstream tradition where the ambition is all the greater for being more subtly deployed.

All are a prime example of the kind of ambition I am choosing to celebrate here. The mainstream drama with a depth of feeling and a point of view.

Which brings me back to  Z Cars. The black and white clip at the beginning. Z Cars is everything that is most commonly criticised about television drama. It’s genre, it’s high volume, it’s cheaply made. It’s storylines and sets sometimes creak . And it’s a masterpiece. It shows what is possible.  I would argue therefore that not only does Z Cars remain the single most significant British television drama, but it demonstrates most eloquently that ambition is not to be confused with scale, or adventurous form, or plot or even setting. It demonstrates that ambition in television drama is fundamentally about character and characterisation.

That is how a drama becomes greater than the sum of its parts. Everything is secondary to character. It is as evident in Paul Abbot’s ‘Reckless’,  as it is in Toby Whithouse’s Being Human. It is as evident in Debbie Horsfield’s ‘Riff Raff Element’ as it is in Jack Thorne’s ‘This is England’.  It is as evident in Heidi Thomas’ ‘Call the Midwife’ as it is in Billy Ivory’s ‘Common as Muck’.

I think that drama has to be about something, and I think an audience can tell pretty quickly if it isn’t. I have seen enough prestigious shows that are about nothing at all, and episodes of Coronation Street that are about everything that is important in the world to know that ambition is not the preserve of the shows which receive the critical acclaim and the high budgets.

In short, the main ambition of any drama should be that it is about something and that it knows what it is about and that the characters should carry those ideas through their action and dialogue. A statement of the bleeding obvious but then I’m not being paid for this, so if you want genuine profundity I refer you to my DVD collection which can be bought on the way out.

BBC TV Writers’ Festival 2012

This year’s festival kicked off with an inspiring opening speech from the brilliant Peter Bowker about ambition in television drama.

I then headed to a session with Lucy Gannon titled ‘Get Real’. Lucy’s list of television credits is awe-inspiring but I could also recollect a period when her name seemed to disappear from the authored television drama landscape so I was interested to hear her thoughts on sustaining a career over such a long period of time.

Lucy was honest and frank about the highs and lows of writing for television.  She’s worked with some brilliant producers, directors and script editors over the years, and some not so brilliant. Lucy was adamant that a good script editor can make you run, rather than plod and that their job is a hard and valuable one which should be respected.  She said being a successful writers brings you into the spotlight but that the spotlight could just as quickly move off you and onto others. But even when she wasn’t being commissioned she never stopped writing. At the time it felt like everyone else was wrong but looking back she wonders if perhaps what she was writing during that period was not quite as brilliant as she might have thought it was.  In a later session on making disability visible in television drama, Lucy felt strongly that successful writers are privileged to have a voice that will be heard and that they have a responsibility to use that opportunity wisely. Her passion for writing was clear as she said that she would not live long enough to tell all the stories she has to tell and that is “really annoying”.

The brilliant Ashley Pharoah did a session on the art of pitching with some great tips and very funny anecdotes. While in the U.S pitching is a very polished process, in the UK his experience was that it didn’t matter how much you mumbled and laughed and struggled (though I wouldn’t recommend the mumbling bit!), as long as your passion for the project came through. Interrogate your idea before you pitch it and then have faith in it. Most importantly, you have to know why you want to write that project, what the truth is you want to tell and why only you can tell it.

There was an interesting session on Comedy Drama – a term that everyone concluded was reductive but was a useful way into the conversation. The panel was chaired by the lovely and talented James Wood and included Danny Brocklehurst, Sally Wainwright and Ben Stephenson who, to his credit, was there for the whole 2 days of the festival. All of the panel agreed that the shows we would classify as comedy dramas are really dramas with a sprinkling of comedy and a lightness of touch in the execution. Ben felt particularly strongly that a sixty-minute comedy drama couldn’t just be situational (as a thirty-minute sitcom might) but had to have a strong story motor. In a later session Toby Whithouse remarked that ‘Being Human’ is often referred to as a comedy drama but while his twenty gags in an hour of drama is considered funny, twenty gags in just half an hour of a sitcom but make it a spectacular failure.

To round off day 1 there was a keynote debate titled ‘Changing The Face of Drama’ in which a talented and passionate panel made a plea for the industry to represent the 10 million disabled people in this country in the dramas we write and commission. Lucy Gannon and Jack Thorne have both written television dramas that were about characters with disabilities but felt strongly that it was the responsibility of all writers to do more. Also on the panel was actress Lisa Hammond who gave a brilliant, articulate speech which really pinpointed many of the obstacles that appear to be in our way and offered solutions to each and every one of them. From my experience it is a fear of getting it wrong that most hampers us from even attempting it. Lisa also felt strongly that writers should just write brilliant characters and then advocate that those characters could be played by an actor with a disability.

Day two started with a fast, articulate and insightful masterclass from John Yorke on Storytelling Physics. Here are the titbits I tweeted on the day:

“Out of our quarrels with others we make rhetoric, out of our quarrels with ourselves we make poetry” – WB Yeats, in other words, from the conflict within ourselves we make art.  Conflict lies at the heart of us – we are all animals (with primal urges, needs and desires) but capable of rational thought and trying to moderate our behaviour to live in a group/society. Look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs for an overview of this.

Great characters are at war with themselves – there is a battle between who they really are and the facade they wish/choose to project to the world. There is a clear relationship between a character’s want and their facade and between their need and their flaw/true self. The traits that prop up their illusory self are what create their problems and the traits that they suppress are those which will allow them to overcome the obstacles, heal them and make them whole. Inciting incidents are explosions of opposites – the protagonist is confronted by the embodiment of everything they are not. In archetypal stories characters go on a journey to get not what they want but what they need and the ego-driven goal is abandoned.

John ended this tour-de-force with the bombshell that “none of this will make you a better writer”! I’d argue that it should never be used to at the beginning of the writing process but that understanding how archetypal stories are structured will give you the tools to fix stories and make them more powerful and more satisfying to an audience. As a script editor, they’re invaluable!

Next up was ‘The Reality of Film’ with the very talented and approachable Joe Oppenheimer. Joe’s opening statement was a brilliantly honest one that in film “you’ll earn less money, have less influence in the project and fewer people will see your work than anything you do in television”. It’s the director (not the writer) whose name will attract other talent and finance and drive the project forward.  Joe pointed out that the maximum production budget for a UK film that was unlikely to export well would be roughly £5million and that audiences have to spend just as much to see a low-budget film as they do to see an expensive, shiny, Hollywood blockbuster. Writers (via their agent) can approach BBC Films directly but they are not producers so they prefer to receive projects from production companies.  BBC Films are looking for films which embrace the specificity of being set in Britain but which have a universality that will allow them to export well. You also have to remember that because of the finance involved and the number of production partners required, the number of people who have to say ‘yes’ to a film is far greater than it is in television. I would also add that everyone who’s putting money into your film will want (and have a right to have) a say in your script. Expect a lot of notes!

Next up was ‘Meet the Commissioners’ with  Ben Stephenson (BBC), Laurie Mackie (ITV), Sophie Gardiner (Channel Four/E4) and Huw Kennair-Jones. (Sky).  All made clear that projects reach them via their in-house development teams or via independent production companies. Laura Mackie stressing the importance of finding the right production company for you and your project. All the commissioners are looking for a range of projects and all were adamant that a project needed to really feel like it fitted their channel and that the writer/producer understood their channel’s output. Chair Peter Bowker asked how they felt about projects that had already been rejected by other channels and none seemed to have a problem with this. Huw Kennair-Jones stressed that he wanted a Sky project to feel like it couldn’t work on any other channel but all agreed that if their channel felt like the right home, it didn’t matter if it had been turned down elsewhere.

Last up for me was a very funny and informative session with Jack Thorne and Toby Whithouse talking about ‘The Rules of Reinventing the World’. Both felt strongly that you must have a really strong vision for your piece and that establishing the rules of the world are a key part of the development process. Jack had to evolve the mythology of his world as the production budget restraints became apparent – from a character disposing of bodies by turning a lake to acid (shimmering gold) to setting fire to them in a caravan. Both found that the necessity of working on very low budgets made them better writers, forcing them to be creative in the solutions to production problems and constraints.

The BBC TV Writers’ Festival was a great opportunity to hear from those at the top of their field, to catch up with old friends and make new ones. Thanks to BBC Writersroom for organising it and see you there next year!

Creating Great Characters

Great characters are essential in any good drama or comedy and it’s not enough to know what happens to your characters in your story, you need to know your characters inside and out.  Characters need to be deeply developed and there are lots of ways of doing it.  One useful tool is to work through a list of character questions.

Below is a substantial list of character questions.  Feel free to attach a “why” question after any item in the questionnaire to generate more details. Although some questions may seem trivial or irrelevant to your character or story, thinking about them may spark other ideas.

When you’re going through the character questions, bear in mind that there may be a difference between what your character would say in answer to these questions and what you know to be the truth about them.  Ask yourself if there is any mileage in that, either dramatically or comically?

After all this work try to boil it down to a 200 word summary.  Think about the dominant character traits and flaws.  Try thinking about how those traits and flaws get them into dramatic conflict and/or and comic situations.

When you’ve developed your character you should be able to answer the following questions about them:

Who am I?

Where have I come from?

How do I feel about where I have come from?

How do I feel about where I am now?

What do I want?

What’s in the way of what I want?

What do I have to do to get what I want?

Give a two or three word description of yourself.

What is your most obvious blessing or strength?

What do you perceive as your greatest strength?

What is your most obvious flaw or weakness?

What do you perceive as your greatest weakness?

Was there any event or cause of these weaknesses?

Physical Traits

How old are you?

What is your gender?

What is your species/race?

How tall are you?

How much do you weigh?

What is your general body type, frame, bone structure, and poise?

What is your skin colour?

What is your hair colour?

What is your hair style?

Do you have any facial hair?

What is your eye colour?

Does it change?

How attractive are you? How attractive would others say you are?

What is your most distinguishing feature?

Do you have any scars, tattoos, or birthmarks? If so, how did you acquire them?

What do these distinguishing marks look like? Do they have any special significance? Where are they located?

What is your handedness (left/right)?

Do you resemble some currently known person?

Do you wear a uniform?

What kind of clothing do you wear?

What is your clothing’s style or level of sophistication?

What size are you for various pieces of clothing?

Do you wear makeup?

Do you wear glasses/contacts?

What sort of vocal tone do you have?

Do you get sick?

Do you have any unusual or nervous mannerisms, such as when talking, thinking, afraid, under stress, or when embarrassed? If so, are there any reasons behind them from your past?

Do you have an unusual gait or accent? If so, where did you acquire them? Are there any circumstances where they become more (or less) evident? How do you feel and react if made fun of for any of these things?

If your features were to be destroyed beyond recognition, is there any other way of identifying your body?

History

Homeland / Community

Where is your homeland?

What are its people like?

Are you aware of its history?

Are you patriotic or a social outcast?

What are your opinions of home?

Where is your home town?

What was the area like and how did it affect you?

What was the social class of the area?

Did you witness any historical events? If so, how did that event impact you?

What about your race, growing up were you in the majority or a minority?

How were you treated by other nearby races? Were you persecuted for your race?

Did this impact your outlook in any way? Did it affect your personality?

How do you feel about other races?

Do you have any justification from your past experience for holding such views?

How do you view the heroes/legends of your country?

Childhood

Briefly describe a defining moment in your childhood and how it influenced your life.

What was childhood like for you?

Was it calm and peaceful or turbulent and traumatic?

Were there any traumatic experiences in your early years (death of a family member, abandonment, orphaned at an early age, etc.)?

What is your earliest memory?

What are your best and worst childhood memories?

Did you have any childhood friends?

If so, who and where are they now?

Are you still close to them or have you grown apart?

What stupid things did you do when you were younger?

Which toys from your childhood have you kept?

Why? What do they mean to you?

If you didn’t keep any, why not? What did you do to them all?

Do you have any deep, dark secrets in the past that may come back to haunt you?

What conflicts might arise from your past?

Are you who you claim to be?

Family

Parents

Who were your parents?

Were you raised by them?

If not, then why didn’t they and who did raise you?

What is your father’s full name?

What is your mother’s full name?

What did your parents and/or foster parents do for a living?

What was their standing in the community?

Did your family stay in one area or move around a lot?

How did you get along with your parents?

How would your parents describe you?

What was your parents’ marriage/relationship like?

Siblings

Do you have any siblings?

If so how many and what were their names?

What was your birth position in the family (i.e. first born, middle, last born)?

How did you get along with each of your siblings?

What was the worst thing they did to you, what was the best?

What were the worst and best things you did to/for them?

Family

What was your family life like?

Are any or all of your family still alive?

If so, where are they now?

Do you stay in touch with them or have you become estranged?

Draw out your family tree, including living and dead relatives.

Do you love or hate one member of the family in particular?

Is any member of the family special to you in any way (perhaps, as a confidant, mentor, or arch-rival)?

Are there any black (or white) sheep in the family (including you)?

If so, who are they and how did they “gain” the position?

If this person is not you, then how do you feel about them?

Do you have a notorious or celebrated ancestor?

If so, what did this person do to become famous or infamous?

What do people assume about you once your ancestry is revealed? Do you try to live up to the reputation of your ancestor, try to live it down, or ignore it?

Relationships

Friends

Do you have any close friends?

If so, who and what are they like?

What is the history of their relationship(s) with you?

Do you currently have a best friend whom you would protect with your reputation or your life?

If so, who are they and what caused you to feel so close to them? What would have to happen for you to end this relationship?

When you get together with friends what do you talk about?

How close are you to your friends?

What do they know about you?

What do they not know about you?

What do you know and not know about them?

Enemies

Do you have any bitter enemies?

If so, who are they, what are they like, and what is the history of their feud with you?

Have you defeated them before?

How might these enemies seek to discomfit you in the future?

Romance

Do you live with anyone (housemates, roommates, relatives, friends, near-strangers, family friend, spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, lover)?

Are you married or in a relationship? If so, where did you meet? What attracted you to one another?

Have you begun your own family?

If not, do you ever want to have a family of your own someday?

If so, with who or what type of person?

What type of person would be your ideal mate?

What would you be willing to do to protect such a person?

Is there anything you wouldn’t do to protect such a person and if so what?

Would anything change your mind on this issue and if so, what?

List any past serious relationships that you have had, and give a brief overview of the relationship(s).

Have you lost any loves?

How did you handle the situation (short & long term)?

Who is/was the greatest love in your life?

What are your general reactions to an attractive member of the opposite sex who lets you know they are available?

What is your sex life like now and in the past?

Wider Relationships

What valuable or important contacts do you have?

How did you come to know them?

Which person(s) or group(s) are you most loyal to?

How do you think others generally perceive you?

If someone crossed your path, what would you do?

Who is your most trusted ally?

Who do you trust, in general?

Who do you despise and why?

Is your image consistent?

Do people see you in similar ways?

Do you deliberately present yourself differently in different situations, and how?

For what would you die for?

Who do you turn to when you’re in trouble?

What is the worst thing someone has done to you?

How do you get along with others in the same field and/or work environment?

How can you be blackmailed, beaten, and tricked?

Who would miss you, should you go missing?

Who might protect you?

Who might be convinced to sell you out?

Are you a member of any special interest groups?

What is your level of involvement?

What is your current status with local law-enforcement?

Do you have a record of cooperation or non-cooperation with authorities?

Do you have a file with local, national or international law enforcement?

Personality / Beliefs

Dreams / Goals

Do you have any dreams or ambitions?  If not, why?

What are your short term goals (what would you like to be doing within a year)?

What are your long term goals (what would you like to be doing twenty years from now)?

If these goals seem at odds with each other or with your dreams, how do you reconcile the differences?

How do you seek to fulfill these dreams, goals and ambitions?

Do you, or did you, have any role models? Do you have any heroes or idols, either contemporary or from legend?

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Fears

Do you have any great rational or irrational fears or phobias? If so, what are the origins of or reasons behind them?

What, if anything, would it take for you to be able to overcome this?

How do you react when this fear manifests itself?

Are you willing to discuss, or even admit to, the situation?

Money

What are your current financial circumstances?

How does this compare with past financial circumstances?

How does it compare with your expectations?

What are your attitudes regarding material wealth?

Are you miserly with your share of the wealth, or do you spend it freely?

Are you greedy or generous?

Do you see wealth as a mark of success, or just as a means to an end?

If you won the lottery, what would you do?

Interactions

How do you generally treat others?

Do you trust easily (perhaps too easily) or not?

Are you introverted (shy and withdrawn) or extroverted (outgoing)?

Are you a humble soul or blusteringly proud?

Do you act differently than you feel (concealing your true thoughts)?

How do you feel about being alone, in small groups, in large groups?

What are your most annoying habits?

What habits would you find most annoying in friends?

How do others typically react to you?

Why, in your opinion, do they act that way?

Do you get angry easily? Who or what makes you angry?

Do you laugh easily? Who are what makes you laugh?

What about you is heroic? What about you is dastardly?

How do you deal with conflict?

How do you deal with change?

Are you a leader or a follower?

Are you deliberate or spontaneous?

What is your most embarrassing moment?

What trait do you most deplore in yourself?

What trait do you most deplore in others?

What trait do you most admire in yourself?

What trait do you most admire in others?

Spirituality and Faith

Do you believe in god(s)?

Do you believe in life after death?

Do you believe in fate?

Are you devout or impious?

Do you actively worship and proselytize or do you simply pay lip service?

What lengths would you go to defend your faith?

Was your faith influenced or molded by anyone special?

Do you belong to the orthodox church, or a fringe element thereof (and is the group accepted, frowned upon, or considered heretics)?

How has this impacted your faith and life?

Is your church an accepted religion where you grew up or did it have to conduct its services in secret?

How did this affect your faith and life?

Have you ever been persecuted for your faith?

If so, when and how did you handle it?

How do you feel about magic, myth, and the supernatural?

Do you remember your dreams? Describe a typical dream you might have. Describe your worst nightmares.

Morality

Can you kill?

When did you decide (or learn) that you could?

What happened and how did you handle it?

When do you consider it okay to kill (under what circumstances)?

When do you consider it wrong to kill (under what circumstances)?

What would you do if someone else attempted to (or successfully did) kill under your “wrong” circumstances, what would be your reaction?

What if it were your enemy? What if it were your friend? What if it were an innocent?

What would you do if someone shot at (attacked) you?

What would you do if something were stolen from you?

What would you do if you were badly insulted publicly?

What would you do if a good friend or relative were killed by means other than natural death?

What is the one task you would absolutely refuse to do?

What do you consider to be the worst crime someone could commit and why?

Politics

Do you think or feel you know what is going on in the world?

Do you think or feel you know what is going on in your community?

How do you feel about government (rulers) in general?

Do you support the current government of your homeland?

If so, how far are you willing to go to defend the government?

If not, do you actively oppose it? Do you belong to an anti-government organization?

If so, describe the group and its aims.

What form of government do you believe is the best (democracy, monarchy, anarchy, aristocratic rule, oligarchy, matriarchy) and why?

Have you ever been persecuted for your political stance? If so, describe the occurrence and how it affected you.

Are you a member of any non-religious group, cause, order, or organization? If so describe it, its goals, and membership.

How loyal are you to this group and why? How did you become a member? If you are a former member, did you leave voluntarily or involuntarily and why? Was it under good (amicable) conditions or bad? Are you being sought or hunted by the organization? If so, by whom and with what intent (to murder you, to force your return through blackmail or coercion, to spy on you and make sure they do not reveal any of the groups secrets)?

Is there any race, creed, alignment, religion, class, profession, political viewpoint, or the like against which you are strongly prejudiced, and why?

Lifestyle / Hobbies

Home Environment

Where do you live now and where would you like to live?

What kind of home do you live in (flat, house)?

Do you own or rent?

How close are the neighbours?

Is it a good neighborhood?

Do you have a lawn? What about a flower garden? Does your house have an attic or basement?

What does your furniture look like?

Do you buy antiques? What are your walls covered with? Wallpaper, art, photos? What sorts of curtains do you have? Frilly lacy ones, venetian blinds, pull-down shades?

Do you keep your house clean? Is it dusty? Is the bathtub moldy or coated in rust? Do you clean it yourself?

What does your desk or workspace look like – small and cramped, huge and expansive, covered in drifts of books and papers or neatly ordered and clean? Can you find what you’re looking for when you need it?

What colour are your sheets? Satin or cotton? Patterned with flowers, or covered with pictures of toy robots?

Do you have any pets?

Do you keep a calendar or address book? Where do you keep it?

Routines

What is your normal daily routine?

How do you feel and react when this routine is interrupted for some reason?

What would you do if you had insomnia and had to find something to do to amuse yourself?

Relaxation / Hobbies

What do you do for relaxation?

What things do you do for enjoyment?

What are your hobbies?

What pastime (that you participate in regularly) gives you the most enjoyment?

What pastime (that you participate in regularly) gives you the least enjoyment?

What do you do on Friday and Saturday nights?

What do you do on a Sunday afternoon?

Where do you go when you want to have fun?

What books do you read?  Scientific textbooks, historical novels, myths and legends, maps, cookbooks, romances, news magazines, science fiction, fantasy, horror, the newspaper, short stories?

Do you read the newspaper? If so, which sections and how often?

What (if any) are your favourite forms of art?

What is your idea of a good evening’s entertainment?

What are your hangout places?

Do you go to a bar after work?

What music do you like? Do you have a favourite artist, band or bard?

How do you exercise? Work out at the gym, walks in the morning, run marathons, play sports, couch potato?

Food

What is your favourite food?

What is your favourite drink?

What is your favourite treat (desert)?

Do you favour a particular cuisine?

Do you savor the tastes when eating or “wolf down” your food?

Do you like food mild or heavily spiced?

Are there any specific foodstuffs that you find disgusting or refuse to eat?

Are you allergic to any food?

Do you cook your own dinners? Are you a good cook, a gourmet, or a terrible cook? Do you eat out? Are you on a diet?

Favourites

What are your favourite colour(s)?

Is there any colour that you dislike?

Do you have a favourite (or hated) song, type of music, or instrument?

If you have a favourite scent, what is it?

What is your favourite type of animal?

Is there a certain type of animal that you hate or fear?

Are you allergic to any kinds of animals?

Do you have any allergies?

Travel / Environment

How do you get around locally?

Any fears in traveling?

Do you get seasick, airsick, motion sick?

What sorts of general belongings or equipment do you take when traveling?

Where do you go on holiday?

Where would you go if partner/children/obligations/finance permitted?

What place would you most like to visit?

Do you enjoy “roughing it”, or do you prefer your creature comforts?

Do you prefer the town or the country?

Career /Training

Education

Where and how were you educated?

Who trained you in your class or job?

What was your relationship with your teacher(s)/mentor(s)? How did you happen across this teacher or mentor?

Was your mentor kind, stern, cruel, indifferent?

Is this person or institution still in existence?

What is your level of intelligence and is it reflected in your education or job?

Were you a prize student or did you just barely pass?

Look at your skills. How did you acquire them (especially the unusual ones)?

Job

What job do you do?  How do you feel about it?

Do you plan to do this job for the rest of your life?

Were you forced into your profession by parents or peers?

Did circumstances dictate your choice of profession?

Have you ever done anything else for a living?

Have you ever received any awards or honours?

What have you done that was considered “outstanding” in your occupation by others in your field?

What are your long-term goals in work?

Describe any traumatic experiences in your present occupation that have affected you deeply in some way.

How do your relatives and friends view your present occupation?

Is there anything that you don’t currently know how to do that you wish you could?

Are you envious of others who can do such things in a good-natured way or are you sullen and morose about it?

What are your relationships with your colleagues, juniors and bosses?

Miscellaneous

Do you feel you are in the mainstream of things?

What do you worry about most?

What has been the high point of your life?

What is the biggest mistake you have made in your life?

What is your biggest regret?

What is your highest priority in life?

What is the “newest thing” in your life?

What is the “newest idea” in your life?

What advice would you give the younger generation? The older generation?

Do you feel the world is changing too fast or not fast enough? Explain.

What is your attitude to technology?

What keeps you awake at night?

What would you rescue from your burning house?

Have you written a Will? What does it say?

If your life were to end in 24 hours, what 5 things would you do in those remaining hours?

What would you like to be remembered for after your death?

Name

What is your name?

Have you changed it?

Do you have a nickname? If so, how do you feel about it?

What does your name say about your parents?

If you have changed your name, what does this say about you?

N.B Think about what were popular names in the year your character was born.  Try to avoid giving your characters similar sounding names and ideally make every character’s name start with a different letter – eg not Susie and Sarah but perhaps Susie and Beth.