Monday, 26 September 2011

Ten questions to ask your characters

As any Russian Formalist will tell you, defamiliarization is a good thing. But it's not only about presenting known things in a new way to an audience, sometimes you have to look at your work from a deliberately different angle to gain new insights and spot potential weaknesses before your readers do.

Here's a trick I learnt from a director currently working on a reading of one of my stage-plays. She told the actors to ask the following questions of their characters to help them develop the parts.

Initially I felt nervous reading these questions - they drill down to the core essential drama affecting characters and will consequently root out any dramatic weaknesses. Try asking them of your characters.

1. How is your character suffering?

2. What are they doing to resolve their suffering?

3. What do they want for themselves?

4. What do they want of others?

5. What do they DO (verbs/ actions ) in each scene?

6. What fundamentally changes/ has changed for them at the end of the story?

7. What do you see as the dominant idea / concept / theme underpinning the story?

8. What is your character's relationship to that idea?

9. Are there any particular events in the past (distant or recent) that shape the character?

10. What is your character’s picture of the future?

As authors governing an entire work and all it entails (plot, story, characters, setting, structure etc.) we rarely take the time to immerse ourselves entirely in one character's world (perhaps the MC if he/she is lucky). If you are looking for fully developed characters in dramatic circumstances then it might pay to do just that – for all your characters. You may see your story-world in a whole new light.


  1. Great post, James. I'm going to print out this list and tack it up next to my computer ;)

  2. Thanks for reading and commenting, Kate - good to know my post is making such practical use!