When I come up with the first inkling of a story, it tends to be a scene with a character in the midst of some action or in a certain location. It’s very “scenario first, plot later” which that alone sums up a lot of my strengths and weaknesses as a writer. It’s much more conducive to Dungeons and Dragons than novels, but meh. Plot comes from characters and you need to know your characters before you can formulate a proper plot. At least that’s how I operate.
Recently, I took a LitReactor.com class run by Delilah S. Dawson (who is awesome) and it was all about turbocharging your characters in order to make your novel stronger. I got a lot out of it.
But there was one thing I wanted to share with the class but I only just found it again a couple days ago.
In college, I went to film school. It’s a different medium than writing novels, so it inherently has different strengths and weaknesses, but many aspects of good storytelling are universal. When I got to my last semester of college, I finished my thesis and all the required classes for my major. All I had to do was fill out my credit total. One of the classes I took was an acting class. I was upfront with the prof that I wanted to know something about the other side of the camera, not really ever expecting to be a proper actor. He was cool with that. And also thoroughly freaked out because he ran theater classes for my parents in the general vicinity of 1979 and I was the first second generation student.
Acting is all character.
Prof Patterson had one assignment which gave you a laundry list of questions for you to get in your character’s head. That’s no different than writing a novel, at least the way I write. When I was moving into my house and cleaning out a boxes of old college crap a few years ago, I found the assignment and I typed up the questions into a word doc. It got lost in the shuffle when I got this new computer, a few months ago but I found it again. It has been useful for me and I’m sharing it in case that’s the sort of thing that’s useful to you. Not every question really works for every situation. Acting 201 didn’t really worry about science fiction or fantasy, but it works for the most part.
Questions below the jump.
Character Development Questions
sourced from Acting 201, Prof. Dan Patterson, Keene State College, Spring 2005
1- When and where was your character born? Does this significantly influence anything in your character’s behavior?
2- Where did your character grow up?
3- What do you consider to be your character’s “home”?
4- Who are your characters parents?
5- How does your character feel about his parents?
6- What was your characters happiest childhood experience? Details!
7- What was your characters unhappiest childhood experience? Details!
8- Does your character have any brothers or sisters? What are they like?
9- Which family member is/was your character closest to? Why?
10- Who were your characters close friends as a child? Why?
11- What were your characters favorite toys, activities and hobbies? Why? Details!
12- What was school like for your character? Did he like it? What were your characters best/worst subjects? Why?
13- Is your character intelligent? Does this have anything to do with his schooling? Why? Why not?
14- Who has been the biggest influence on your character’s life outside of his family?
15- Is your character a friendly person (outgoing and gregarious)? Is he a shy person (timid and withdrawn)? Why?
16- What is your characters ethnic origin? Is this a factor in his/her life?
17- What was/is your characters worst nightmare? Best dream?
18- What was the best present your character ever received? Why?
19- What was the nicest thing your character ever did for someone?
20- What was the nicest thing someone ever did for your character?
21- Is your character mentally and emotionally stable? Why/why not?
22- What brought you to the place you are at now? Physically, mentally, emotionally.
23- What have you been doing for the last week, month, year?
24- What would you like to be doing in the next week, month, year?
25- Does your character show his feelings or hide them? Give examples.
26- What has been the high point in your character’s life so far?
27- What has been the low point in your characters life so far?
28- Does your character have any enemies? Who and why?
29- Has your character ever been in love? Explain.
30- What are you characters major strengths and weaknesses?
31- What kind of people does your character like to be with? Why?
32- What kind of people does your character avoid? Why?
33- Is your character a consistent person? Does he always say what he means and does what he says? Why/why not? Give examples.
34- How honest is your character with himself and others?
35- What are your characters immediate goals?
36- What are your characters long-range goals?
37- What stands in your characters way?
38- How will your character overcome his obstacles
39- Does your character have any secrets? Give examples
40- Is your character a product of his upbringing? Why/why not?
41- If your character could change one thing about himself, what would it be?
42- What are your characters eccentricities? (i.e. talking with hands, shuffling feet, biting fingernails, avoiding eye contact etc)
43- Who would your character be if he could be someone else?
44- What is your characters attitude toward life in general?
45- What would your character be if he were…
a. An animal? Why?
b. A color? Why?
c. An element? Why?
d. A machine? Why?
e. A sound? Why?
f. A taste? Why?
g. Which of these best sums him up? Why?
46- Prepare a list of at least 25 adjectives that best describe your character. The simplest way to do this is to re-read what you have already written and simply pull adjectives from what you have already said about yourself.
47- Look at your list of twenty five adjectives and write a paragraph on conclusions that you can draw about the character from the list of words you have chosen.