Table of contents
- What is a character interview?
- Why are character interviews important?
- How to Use a Character Questionnaire
- List of Questions
- The Most Important Questions
A lot can happen from the first time you think of a character, to when you begin writing them in your novel. One way to make things easier is to ask them a list of character development questions.
That’s right, I said ask them, i.e. your characters.
This is a discovery writing process that can be invaluable when beginning your story. Because the more you know your characters, the better your book will be.
- What a character interview is
- Why character interviews are important
- How to conduct a character interview
- A HUGE list of over 200 potential questions
- Some of the most important questions to get right/li>
By far the best way to get to know your character is with a character interview. The character questionnaire allows you to think of things you might not otherwise have done, and help you discover your character.
But first, let’s cover some basics.
What is a character interview?
The character interview is a time-honored method of discovering your character, learning what makes them tick.
Think of the process like outlining, but instead of a plot, you’re outlining a character.
Character interviews are one of the best ways to develop your characters and make them feel like real people.
If you want to follow the same path that I took, get this template today!
Why are character interviews important?
It’s more than just building a character profile, although it can be that too. It’s a way to not only learn the outward characteristics, but dig deep into their soul.
You want to build a real person, and what better way to do it than to interview that person.
For the pantser, this may seem tedious, and unnecessary. You may prefer to discover the character as they write the novel.
But think of it this way.
By taking the time to get to know your character, you engage in the discovery process ahead of time. Once you have a solid character, they will begin to take on a live of their own in the plot.
How to Use a Character Questionnaire
To conduct your character questionnaire, simply imagine that you are sitting in a room with your main character. You are allowed to be as nosy as you want, and they will understand everything you say. You simply ask them questions and see how they respond.
Repeat this process for any other important characters in your story.
Whatever you do, don’t use every question on this list.
Your character is unique, and you should tailor the questions you ask to that person, just as a real-life journalist would do in a real interview.
Pro Tip: There are more ways to flesh out a character backstory, but actually writing out their answers as if you were interviewing them is how we recommend building your character arc. It allows for the best immersion, and gives you practice writing in their voice.
Make sure you already have the broad strokes of your character in mind already. You should not start from scratch.
However, if you are starting from scratch, you can browse through these questions to brainstorm ideas. And you can start with the basic questions to build the character, then flesh out from there.
List of Questions
Without further ado, here is our full list of questions to ask your character.
Once again, you don’t have to use all of them, and you don’t have to go in order. Simply choose what works for you, and run with that.
- What is your Full name?
- How do you feel about your name?
- Does your name have any particular meaning/history?
- Do you have any nickname?
- When were you born?
- What is your age?
- Sexual orientation?
- What is your height?
- What is your weight?
- How are you built? (Skinny, fat, stocky, well muscled, etc.)
- What is your face shape?
- What is your hair color?
- How do you style your hair?
- What is your eye color?
- What is your eye shape?
- Do you wear glasses or contact lenses? If glasses, what style?
- Do you have any distinguishing facial features?
- What is your most prominent facial feature?
- What is your most prominent bodily feature?
- What is your skin tone?
- What is your race/ethnicity?
- Do you wear makeup?
- Do you have any scars, birthmarks, or tattoos?
- Do you have any physical handicaps or disabilities?
- What type of clothes do you typically wear? (at home, at work, out on the town, in bed)
- Do you wear any kind of jewelry or accessories?
- What type of shoes do you wear?
- Do you have any mannerisms?
- Would you say you are in good health?
- Are there any words or phrases that you overuse?
- What about a catchphrase?
- Are you a glass-half-full or a glass-half-empty type of person?
- Are you more introverted or extroverted?
- What makes you laugh?
- What is your love language? How do you show affection?
- Do you have any mental disabilities?
- What do you want others to think about you?
- How do you see yourself?
- What is your strongest aspect?
- What is your weakest aspect?
- How competitive are you?
- Do you act on impulse or carefully think through decisions?
- What happens if someone praises your work?
- What happens if someone criticizes your work?
- What is your greatest fear?
- What is your biggest secret that you’ve never told anyone?
- What is the purpose of life?
- When did you last cry?
- What haunts you?
- What are your political views?
- What will you stand for?
- Who do you quote most often?
- Do you prefer the indoors or the outdoors?
- What is your guilty pleasure?
- What personal trait do you rely on the most?
- What do you value most in a friend?
- If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
- What are you obsessed with?
- What are your pet peeves?
- What is your greatest regret?
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- Do you have a large family? Who are they?
- What do you think of your family?
- What is your current relationship with your parents?
- Do you have siblings? Where do you come in?
- Describe your best friend.
- Who is your ideal best friend?
- Who are your other friends?
- Do you make friends easily?
- Do you have any pets?
- Who do you naturally get along with?
- Who do you surprisingly get along with?
- Do you believe in love at first sight?
- Are you in a relationship?
- How do you act in a relationship?
- How many relationships have you had?
- When was the last time you engaged in intimacy?
- What kind of sex do you like to have?
- How would you feel after a one-night stand?
- How do you break up with someone?
- Have you ever been in love?
- Has anyone ever broken your heart?
- Who do you trust?
- Do you live with anyone? How do you get along with them?
- Do you get along with your neighbors? Why?
- How would your family describe you?
- How would your lover describe you?
- How would your boss describe you?
- How would your enemy describe you?
- What were you like as a baby/child?
- Did you grow up rich or poor?
- Were you nurtured or neglected in childhood?
- What is the most offensive thing a person has ever said to you?
- What has been your greatest achievement?
- How was your first kiss?
- What is the worst thing you did to someone you love?
- What is your greatest ambition?
- What advice would you give your younger self?
- What smells remind you of home/your childhood?
- What did you want to be when you grow up? Did it work out?
- What is your favorite childhood memory?
- What is your worst childhood memory?
- Did you have any imaginary friends as a child?
- What are you most ashamed of?
- What are you most proud of?
- Has anyone saved your life?
- Were you ever bullied as a child?
- What is the most embarrassing thing to ever happen to you?
Values and Desires
- What are your values?
- What is the worst thing that can be done to a person?
- What is freedom?
- When did you last lie?
- What is your view of lying?
- Do you keep your promises?
- Who is your hero?
- If you could save one person, who would it be?
- If you could ask for help from one person, who would it be?
- What is your favorite proverb?
- Do you believe in happy endings?
- What is happiness?
- What is your dream job?
- What do you like to spend money on?
- What is something you would never do?
- What is something you would do that might surprise people?
- Are you a leader, follower, or lone wolf?
- Would you trade ten years of your life for money/beauty/intelligence?
- How do you respond to a threat?
- Do you prefer fighting with your fists or using diplomacy?
- What is your kryptonite?
- Your house is burning down, and you can only save one thing. What is it?
- How do you view strangers?
- What do you love to hate?
- What are your phobias?
- What is your ideal weapon?
- Who do you most despise in the world?
- What do you do when you get angry?
- Who are your enemies? Why?
- You witness a victimless crime, what do you do?
- You’re at a bar, and someone spills your drink, what do you do?
- Are you a forgiving person?
- Is there anything in your past that you can’t forgive?
Lifestyle and Habits
- What are your bad habits?
- What is your job?
- What do you think about your job?
- What other jobs have you had?
- What are your hobbies?
- What is your educational background?
- Would you describe yourself as intelligent?
- Do you have any specialist training?
- Are you ‘naturally talented’ at anything?
- Do/have you played a sport?
- What is your socioeconomic position?
- What is in your fridge?
- What is in your car?
- What kind of car do you drive?
- What is in your pocket?
- What is your most treasured possession?
- Do you keep anything under your pillow? Next to your bed?
- What are your eating habits?
- Do you have any allergies?
- What does your home look like?
- Minimalist or hoarder?
- Are you organized or disorganized?
- Are you forgetful or easily distracted?
- Right brain or left brain?
- What do you do first on the weekend?
- What do you do first on a weekday?
- What do you do on a Sunday afternoon?
- What do you do on a Friday night?
- Are you comfortable with technology?
- How do you like to celebrate your birthday?
- What do you think about when you can’t sleep?
- What keeps you up at night?
- What is your morning routine?
- If you could relive any day of your life, what would it be?
- What is your favorite color?
- What is your favorite animal?
- What place would you like to visit the most?
- What is the most beautiful thing you have ever seen?
- What is your favorite song?
- What type of art do you prefer? (fine art, music, reading, film, etc.)
- What is your password?
- What is your favorite food?
- What is your favorite movie?
- What TV show can you just binge all day long?
- Who is your favorite musician?
- What is your favorite alcoholic drink?
- What is your favorite non-alcoholic drink?
- If you could have a superpower, what would it be?
Emotions and Spirituality
- Who could be your guardian angel?
- Do you believe in the afterlife?
- What religion do you follow?
- Do you believe in heaven or hell?
- What do you think it’s like in heaven or hell?
- Are you superstitious?
- If you could be reincarnated, what would you like to be reincarnated as?
- What is your spirit animal?
- How would you like to die?
- What is your zodiac sign?
- What is your Chinese Horoscope?
- What is your motto or mantra for life?
- What would you dress up for on Halloween?
- What would you do if you won the lottery?
- If you could meet anyone, living or dead, who would it be?
- Do you have any food allergies or sensitivities?
The Most Important Questions
That list can be a bit overwhelming. So I thought I’d spend some time discussing the most important questions that you should know before you start writing your book.
And I’ve boiled it down to four essential questions:
1. What Do They Want Most?
Every character should start by wanting something more than anything. It can be living a peaceful life, it can be wanting to explore the wide world out there, it can be protecting someone, it can be finding revenge.
Whatever it is, they have to want it badly.
Desires are what motivate our characters, and they provide us with action and logic behind that action.
They can be especially enticing when pursuing those desires create conflict, the driving fuel behind any good story.
A character’s motivation can change and evolve over the course of the novel. This may be in relation to our character flaw that we talk about below. Perhaps that person will realize that the thing they thought they wanted, wasn’t actually what they truly desired.
You’ll see this a lot in Hollywood. Pixar, for example, has got it down to a science.
Character wants something > they try to get it > they encounter challenges to their desires > those challenges help them understand the truth.
Combining that desire and change is a great way to create a satisfying character arc.
2. What Is Their Greatest Fear?
If your character wants something, there must be something else that stands in the way. In a satisfying character development arc, this is done by creating something that your character fears.
Fears create tension in the story, and they provide a superbly personal form of conflict for the character.
They also deepen a character’s backstory, giving us a more well-rounded look at what makes them tick.
If you create a situation where your character must confront their greatest fear to get what they want, you have just created one of the most memorable moments in the character’s development.
3. What is Their Greatest Flaw?
Let’s face it, no one is perfect. We all have some vice, a quirk, or a history we are not proud of.
Characters have these too, or at least, the good ones do.
When you give your character’s personality a flaw, you create internal conflict.
A flaw is a great place to start on your hero’s journey toward change. This is part of what makes a good story, watching the character overcome their flaws, and gain something in return, because that’s essentially what all of us go through.
The flaw in your character’s life will (and should) create problems (conflict). And by combining all three of these essential traits (desire, fear, flaw), you can create real depth to your character, and help chart their motivations when they encounter the situations you put them through.
4. What Is Their Character Type?
Each character has a character type that they usually fit into. This can be the role of protagonist, antagonist, mentor, love interest, etc.
The nature of this role will determine what questions you ask in your questionnaire, and help you get an idea of what kind of character they should be.
Why is your antagonist antagonizing? What causes your protagonist to take action? Why would the love interest be appealing to your protagonist?
In short, knowing your character type can help you determine what kind of person they are. It’s a great place to start.
Let’s face it, if you went through this process for every character in your novel, you’d be writing a novel’s worth of pre-writing just about your characters.
So you shouldn’t follow this process for every character. But you should take them into consideration for the most important roles in your story, and you should at least ask some of the more important questions to every character that has a big role to play in your book.
Personally, I love the process of getting to know my characters. By interviewing them, I’m able to get to know them ahead of time, rather than during the process of writing my story, saving me some valuable editing time in the end.