“No author can create a character out of nothing. He must have a model to give him a starting point; but then his imagination goes to work. He builds him up, adding a trait here, a trait there, which his model did not posess.”– W. Somerset Maugham
Writers and character-creators, you know the drill. Creating characters is not a matter of throwing together some physical attributes and a selection of your favourite personality traits and expecting a memorable and masterful creation that others will love and admire and create fandoms over.
Nope. Not how it works.
Fictional characters should be just as layered and complex as real people; interesting, irritating, curious, droll, troubled, perplexing, vulnerable. Even if they aren’t human, they should still possess a myriad of behaviours, beliefs and emotions that we (humans) can fully relate to. And in saying that, they also shouldn’t be convoluted; having so many quirks and traits from across personality divides that, in real life, they’d be diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder. Unless that’s your intention.
Incidentally, a fantastic way to help you work through developing unique and cohesive qualities for your different characters is by doing Character Development Questions. There are literally hundreds of sites and blogs that showcase different CDQs. These kinds of queries are usually compiled like a kind of written interview or quiz and are an effective (and might I add fun!) way to guide you in breathing life and depth into your fictional creations.
And this kind of character-delving is not just for creatives working on a novel or short story. I recently put together a Character Questionnaire for some of my friends and I to fill out on behalf of the characters we crafted and (currently) play in our DnD (Dungeons & Dragons) campaign.
Now, we’ve been playing our characters in the current campaign for several months now, so there have been plenty of times that traits, personality flavours and backstories have been revealed and experienced. But doing a (modestly) broad questionnaire has not only translated the already-established dimensions of our characters into interesting written responses, but it’s helped us to recognise and delve deeper into traits and temperaments for our characters that we had previously not considered (or properly fleshed-out).
Plus, it was super fun (and funny!). It really made their different points of view and humour shine!
If you have never done a Character Questionnaire for your characters before, I highly encourage you to do so. I have the questions I compiled for my DnD group below, but you don’t have to use just my list; there are dozens of different lists freely available across the internet; each with compiled questions of varying (as well as shared) styles and themes. My own list was inspired by the created questionnaires from other creatives/ bloggers. Search out different lists to find your ideal question sets. Or you can even compile your own list–grafted from the lists and ideas made by others.
And have fun slipping into your character’s shoes and learning about them on more deeper and interesting levels!
So, there you go, a tidbit on really getting into your character’s skin and adding more depth and layers to them.
And here you are: the Character Questions I used on our DnD group. It’s by no means a fully comprehensive questionnaire, but hopefully there’s enough questions to assist in constructing more complexity and (personality) colouring to your character. 🙂
Because getting to know your character better will be valuable (and fun)!
Note: This Questionnaire is presented like an interview directly to the character, so answer the questions as your character would. You’re basically getting into their shoes and writing on their behalf.
That being the case, some questions your character may not want to answer, or might be a bit cheeky or cryptic in their response. All of that is totally fine!
INTRODUCTION/ VISUAL BREAKDOWN
Hair Colour/ style:
What would consider your most prominent facial feature?
What about most prominent body feature?
Do you have any body markings (scars, tattoos, birthmarks)?
What part of your body do you like the most?
What about the least?
Do you have any disabilities?
What types of clothes do you normally wear?
Do you have any physical tics? (e.g. tap your feet when annoyed, laugh when nervous, twirl your hair when in deep-thought, rub your nose when confident etc)
Do you have a catchphrase?
Do you tend to overuse certain words?
Do you consider yourself more of an optimist or pessimist?
Are you an Introvert or Extravert?
Are you an early bird or night owl?
What makes you laugh out loud?
What gets you riled/ annoyed?
What bad habits do you have that you’re aware of?
What good habits are you known for?
How do you think you’re seen by others?
How do you want to be seen by others?
How do you see yourself?
How do you display affection?
Are you indoorsy or outdoorsy?
What sense do you think you rely on most?
How competitive are you?
How do you react to praise?
What about criticism?
What/ Who will you stand up for?
Do you have any sinful little habits/ fetishes?
What is your greatest fear?
What is your greatest hope?
What is your strongest character trait?
What is your weakest?
What quality do you most value in a friend?
What do you consider an overrated virtue? (look at list of virtues here)
Do you have any obsessions?
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
FRIENDS AND FAMILY
Is your family big or small? Who does it consist of?
Do you get along with your family? How do you view them?
Do you have any siblings? How many?
Do you have a best friend? Describe them.
Do you have other friends?
Who are you in your friend-group dynamic (e.g. the party one, the quiet one, the organising one, the one who never listens, the one who is always prying etc)?
Do you have a nickname? Who calls you this?
Do you have any pets?
Do you have any allies?
PAST AND FUTURE
What were you like as a baby? As a child?
Did you grow up rich or poor?
Were you—for the most part—neglected or nurtured?
What’s the most offensive thing you’ve ever said?
What is your greatest achievement?
What is the worst thing you’ve done to someone you love?
What are your ambitions?
What was your childhood ambition?
What’s your best childhood memory?
What’s the worst?
What past act are you most ashamed of?
What past act are you most proud of?
Have you ever been in love?
Do you believe in love at first sight?
Are you in a romantic relationship?
How do you behave in a relationship?
Have you ever had your heart broken?
Have you ever broken someone else’s heart?
How do you respond to a threat?
Are you most likely to fight with your fists or your tongue?
How do you perceive strangers?
Do you have any phobias?
What do you love to hate?
What is your weapon of choice?
What living person do you most despise?
Have you ever been bullied or teased?
What do you do/ how do you react when you’re angry?
What about upset?
Who are your enemies?
What is your favourite animal?
What about least favourite?
What place would you like most to visit?
What is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen?
What is your favourite song?
What about favourite colour?
What do you think is the worst thing that can be done to a person?
What is your view of ‘freedom’?
How do you (generally) view authority?
When did you last lie?
What’s your view of lying?
Can you lie easily?
When did you last make a promise?
Did you keep or break your last promise?
Is there someone you haven’t been able to forgive? What did they do? Do you want to forgive them?
Do you handle rejection well?
What is your view on ‘violence’? Would you use it to help others? To help yourself?
Have you ever done something illegal?
Are you more likely to ask for permission or forgiveness?
There it is! I gleaned a bunch of these questions from other questionnaire sources. And there were heaps more questions I left out or didn’t feel pertinent to put together for my DnD group. Like I said earlier, hunt around, check out other sources. There’s so many cool and interesting questions and scenarios to present to your character to help in their development.
Good luck, and have fun!