These questions are prompts to help you get to know your character and to help you develop one that is multi-dimensional and compelling for your novel or screenplay.
1. Describe your character's physical appearance (age,weight,height, hair & eye color, handicaps, physical mannerisms, etc.):
2. What is their general attitude toward people and experiences and ideas?
3. What is something your character does not know about him or herself?
4. Is there something their parents or another important figure passed on to them that leaves your character ill-equipped to handle the world or an event or relationship in their life?
5. What is your character’s WANT vs. NEED? (This is a very powerful element of character development that most writers neglect. We will share a lecture on this with our free email subscribers or Novel Lab students)
6. Does your character have any addictions? Do they drink, lie, cheat, do drugs, gamble?
7. What comes easy for your character? And what is difficult?
8. How do they react when people are mean to them?
9. What is their secret dream?
10. Who is their best friend or confidant? Do not underestimate how interesting this one element can make your story. Friends and confidants (or mentors) are great foils, plot devices, or entertainment and can make a story memorable or original. Shakespeare (with or without Christopher Marlowe) was a master at this; think Julius Caesar (et tu Brute?). The Godfather (yes, it was a book first) delves into the dangers of friends, family and confidants in fascinating ways. In Bridget Jones's Diary, Bridget uses her diary in place of a traditional “confidant.” In Gone Girl, Amy’s parents and “best friend” are not only interesting confidants but add unexpected twists to the plot. In Deep Winter, the main character, Danny, finds his best and only friend murdered, and as he is hunted for the crime, a three-legged deer comforts and takes on great significance in the story. In Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen’s struggle to befriend and confide in or kill Peeta, plus her relationships with her actual mentor Haymitch are compelling. And, of course, Harry Potter’s friends at Hogwarts Academy are essential to the plot and Harry’s growth.
11. Does your character like themselves?
12. What characteristic are they trying to improve? Hint: there is usually an interior and exterior side to this.
13. How does their family treat them? How do strangers treat them?
14. How does your character react when people take advantage of them, dismiss them, or ignore them?
15. What are their needs and desires and expectations around affection or sex or love?
16. What makes them feel joy?
17. Does your character have extraordinary skills (athletic abilities, supernatural powers, artistic capabilities, people skills, etc.)?
18. Describe something your character has never told anybody about themselves.
19. Tell us one of your character's major flaws. These can be funny, tragic, or subtle. Harry Potter has a scar—one that ends up symbolizing a powerful thing that happened to him. Danny Bedford in Deep Winter is mentally challenged. In Gone Girl, Amy is a narcissist and her husband doesn't know how to stand up to her. He is also a cheater. Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games is terrible at showing emotion.
20. How will your character transform by the end of your story?
Now, grab a piece of paper to free associate any traits that come to mind or questions surrounding your character. Have fun.
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