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.

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4 responses to “Creating Great Characters

  1. Hayley, many thanks for this. I’ve seen lots of character questionnaires and this is by far the best!

  2. This is very useful. I’d never have thought of all this, but can see how the answers to the questions will enrich a storyline.

  3. Wow – what an incredibly useful list to refer to.
    Thank you and keep up the good work.

  4. Pingback: Creating Characters by Alan Flanagan | Scriptangel's Blog

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