Character development questions are questions that you ask about your characters to get a firm grasp on a character’s personality and other vital details essential to good character development.
Sometimes called a character questionnaire, it operates much like an interview but of a fictitious character that you have created. You do this to ensure a well-thought-out, well-rounded character that will have good development and a satisfying character arc.
Why Bother with a Character Questionnaire?
There are several reasons that you should consider asking character questions as part of your writing process. While it may seem silly to interview someone you made up, it can be a valuable way to learn more about them and to really flesh out your characters so that you, as the writer, can gain insight into who you want your character to be.
These questions are also essential to figuring out how the characters, especially the main character, will handle the plot of the story.
In novels where there are several characters, it’s a good idea to conduct a character questionnaire for each character and jot down character profiles for each so that you can keep your characters accurate. Don’t worry about a full character questionnaire for your secondary characters. Just conducting an interview that answers a few essential questions for them will suffice.
Another perk to a character questionnaire is that it’s a great way to keep making progress, even when you’re stuck in the story. Although you should work on these questionnaires before you start writing the story, you can always add to them.
If you feel that you have hit a rough patch with your writing or have a case of writer’s block, taking a break from the story writing to ask character development questions can help jump-start your imagination and get your creative juices flowing.
Even if you can’t get back to writing your novel immediately, you’re still making progress in terms of character development. You want your characters to feel like real people to the reader. These questions will help you to achieve that goal.
The Ultimate Character Questionnaire
Any question you ask about your characters will help you develop them further and make them more realistic characters. However, you should be sure to include certain sorts of questions in your character questionnaire that will be of great value, add depth, and help you develop your character through your writing.
This article will help you to ask the right questions, learn about your characters, and conduct the ultimate character questionnaire so that your character development will be sufficient. Below, you’ll find a description of each of the categories you should ask questions about of each of your characters, but especially your main characters.
Often when writing a story with many different characters, you might accidentally scramble their descriptions, associate a trait to another character instead of the planned one, or lose grip on the delineations initially made amongst the characters. To prevent this from happening, as well as to avoid inconsistencies, a character biography is a great tool to use.
A character biography shows the unique profile of a specific character. It entails basic information such as name, physical features, family background, attitude, limitations, skills, flaws, backstory, and goals. It is purely focused on each character and does not divulge climactic elements and it does not include answers to any mysteries or conflicts that will unfold.
When character biographies are used, it is much easier to interconnect your characters with each character based on their profiles, especially their belief systems.
The Character’s Backstory
Understanding your protagonist’s backstory will help the reader, and yourself as the writer, understand why your protagonist behaves the way he or she does now, why they think the way they do, and what motivates them.
If you ask your antagonist the same questions, you can better understand what happened to make this character the “bad guy.” Perhaps abuse as a child pushed the character to such a depressed state that they gave up all hope of happy life and turned to a life of crime instead.
Perhaps the character experienced loss as a child that stunted his or her emotional and psychological growth. This is your chance to really flesh out the characters you’ve created and give them an exciting but believable backstory.
Character Backstory Questions
The following questions are great things to ask each character in your story. Feel free to add your own questions when you perform your own character questionnaire.
- Who was your best friend as a child?
- What is your worst childhood memory, and how did you react to it?
- If you could say something now to your younger self, what would it be?
- What specific smells remind you of your childhood?
- Describe your first kiss.
- What was your relationship like with your parents when you were a child?
- What clique did you most fit into in school?
- When and where were born? Did you grow up there, or did you move around?
- What did your parents do for a living?
- Do you have siblings? If so, what was your relationship like with them when you were a child?
- What’s your educational background? Did you finish high school or go to college?
- Was extended family a big part of your life growing up?
- What’s the worst thing that ever happened to you?
- What is your favorite childhood memory?
These questions will not only help you learn about your character, but they’ll contribute to your ability as a writer to create a good story. When we feel that we truly know a character, including their background, we can connect with them more, and therefore care about what happens to them.
Knowing what a character looks like helps us to picture the story better in our minds. Readers want a good description so that they can picture a real person. You can give a character a well-written backstory and personality, but if the reader doesn’t know what they look like, they still aren’t quite “real” to the reader, and you’ll lose some interest from your audience in what happens to the character you’ve put so much of your time and energy into.
If possible, it is essential to have a physical description of every character. It will also help with continuity on your part as the author. If you have a minor character who is only mentioned three or four times in the entire novel, you need to know what that specific character looks like so that you don’t contradict yourself later.
For example, if you mention early on in the story that the protagonist has a neighbor who is an old redheaded spinster who has a large mole on her chin and wears rectangular glasses, you need to remember that you described her in this way. Otherwise, when she pops back up for a page or so halfway through, you don’t want to make a mistake or mention that she moves her brunette hair behind her ears or that her rounded, black-framed glasses were dirty or broken.
It takes readers mere hours to complete a novel that can take you years to write. They will remember that she started out with red hair and rectangular glasses, while you may not. Asking these questions in the character questionnaire can help you to keep your information together and continuously as you write your novel.
Questions to Ask About Physical Appearance
The following questions are great things to ask about each character in your story. Feel free to add your own questions when you perform your own character questionnaire.
- Does the character have any distinguishing facial features like scars, facial hair, moles, freckles, birthmarks, missing teeth, or acne? If there are scars, what caused them?
- Does the character wear glasses? Contact lenses? An eyepatch?
- Does the character have any physical handicaps such as a limp, missing limb, etc.?
- What is the eye shape of your character? Almond, large, slanted, hooded?
- What is the hair color of your character?
- What body type does your character have? Slim, overweight, muscular, stocky?
- How old is your character?
- Does your character wear makeup?
- How does your character wear their hair?
- What race/ethnicity is your character?
- Is your character in good health, or are they often sick/chronically ill?
These, and more, are the questions that readers want to be answered when they read about a character. While no two readers will envision the exact same face or body when they read about someone in your novel, having a general understanding of what the character looks like will help them connect not only to the character but also to the story, the plot, and the conclusion.
The love life of your protagonist is essential because readers want to know how he or she interacts with other people. As humans, we formulate our judgments of people largely based upon how they treat others. Knowing how your protagonist and antagonist behave in a relationship will either help to create a bond between the reader and the character or repel them from the character.
Questions to Ask About Relationships
A character questionnaire would not be complete without a romantic aspect to it. Nearly every adult has had some sort of experience with romantic love, either positively or tragically, so it’s necessary that you give those same experiences to the people you have invented for your novel.
Knowing how it makes your character feel to experience love or lust, break up or loss, will aid in the empathy or resentment that the reader harbors for the character. You can ask the following questions about this subject on your character questionnaire.
- Have you ever fallen for your best friend?
- Have you ever had a one-night stand?
- What was your last romantic partner like?
- Have you ever been married? Divorced?
- What is your sexual orientation? Are you comfortable with people knowing? Have you ever faced bullying or discrimination due to it?
- Have you ever dated more than one person at a time?
- When you have a love interest, what do you do to woo him or her?
- Do you believe in happy endings?
- Do you believe in love at first sight?
- What is your idea of a romantic date?
- Have you ever had your heart broken?
- What would you do on a Sunday afternoon date?
- What is the most beautiful thing about being in a relationship?
- How do you react to break-ups?
- Do you have commitment issues?
- Do you like your significant other’s friends and family?
- Do you want a family of your own?
- Do you have children? Do you want children?
- In what sense do you value romantic love?
These and many other questions are essential to understanding how your character interacts with others, handles love, handles loss, handles loneliness, and feels about romance. It is easier to like a protagonist who is desperately searching for love or happily married to the love of his or her life. It is easier to hate an antagonist who is a serial womanizer, abusive, a cheater, or sees love as weak or pathetic.
More Probing Questions
There are many other questions that you can ask about your character to get a well-rounded and better look at your character as a whole. Any question that comes to mind is honestly one worth asking because the more you learn about a character, the better you can write about him or her.
The following questions don’t necessarily fit into any one category of questioning but are still excellent character development questions.
Random Questions for Character Development
When coming up with your own questions to add to these, let your mind wander down any rabbit hole it finds. Sometimes the most seemingly random questions will give you the best insight into who the character is.
- How would your boss describe you?
- What is your most treasured possession? How did you obtain this possession? Why does it mean so much to you?
- What is your spirit animal, and why?
- What are your eating habits? Are you a vegetarian? Do you diet often? Do you have a healthy relationship with food?
- What are your pet peeves?
- What is your favorite movie?
- What is your greatest fear?
- What, if anything, worries you about your future?
- Where do you see yourself in ten years?
- What is your morning routine? Do you sleep in? Are you an early riser?
- What is your favorite food? Are you allergic to any foods?
- What are your bad habits? When did they start?
- Who is your worst enemy? What did they do to wrong you?
- Are you friends with your coworkers? Do you have other friends? How big is your social circle?
- What is the most offensive thing you’ve ever said to someone?
- What is your zodiac sign? Do you believe in astrology?
- What do you do on a typical Friday night? What are your hobbies?
- What is your greatest regret in life?
- What is your greatest achievement in life?
- Do you have any vocational or specialist training?
- If you could get away with a victimless crime, would you do it?
- What are your political views? Do they clash with those of your family or peers?
Character development is key to having a truly engaging novel or work of fiction. Giving your audience a character they can relate to, or picture in real life will give your fiction the depth it needs to take it to the next level and keep your readers turning the page in anticipation of what will happen next.
When you develop the character’s personality or look to come up with the ultimate character questionnaire, take a look in the mirror. What sorts of things make you interesting? What are your most likable traits? What are the things you don’t like about yourself? What are memorable things about your physical appearance? What sorts of things interest you? How do you react to love and relationships?
Digging deep into yourself will give you a better idea of what sorts of traits are realistic. Look at your partner, your enemy, and your friends in this same manner to build character within your work of fiction. Have fun with your character questionnaire and let it spark your imagination.
Get interested in the people you have invented, and create someone you want to read about, hate, love, or feel sorry for. When you create a realistic character, you create a person that people will care about. When readers care about the people, they will care about the rest of the book.