When I create characters, I start with learning about their wants, contradictions, vulnerabilities, disposition, and origin. I discuss those concepts in depth here.
But where do you go from there? One of the best ways to get to know a character is to ask questions. For many writers, this means engaging characters with a character questionnaire.
Now, if you’ve ever searched for a good questionnaire, you know there are hundreds of different lists with thousands of different questions to sort through. Lucky for you, I’m here to do some of that work for you. From me to you, here is the questionnaire I have developed based on the many, many lists I have read in my adventures.
Harry Potter House:
- Do they have any distinguishing features? Scars? Birthmarks?
- If they have scars, how did they get them?
- Does their name have any special meaning in the context of the story?
- How did they get their nicknames?
- How would they describe their own appearance?
- Do they have any allergies, diseases, chronic illnesses, physical conditions or weaknesses, etc.? Have they received treatment?
- Do they have any mental illnesses or conditions? Have they received treatment?
- What words or phrases do they use repeatedly?
- What is their family like? (Parents, siblings, cousins, etc).
- Are they close with any members of their family? Why or why not?
- Who are their friends? Do they have any? How close are they?
- How would they describe their sexual, romantic, and gender identities?
- Have they ever been in love? Who was it? How did it go?
- Are they a virgin? If not, when and with whom did they lost their virginity?
- How would they describe their childhood? Where they protected or neglected? Sheltered? (etc.)
- What was their economic status, growing up? What is it now?
- Did they enjoy school growing up? Why or why not?
- What kind of friends did they have growing up?
- As a child, what did they want to be when they grew up?
- What are their political beliefs? Do they differ from their friends or family?
- What are their views on religion? Do they differ from their friends and family?
- Does your character have a job? If so, what do they do? How do they feel about it?
- Do they have any quirks or notable mannerisms?
- Does your character drink or do drugs? How do they feel about drugs and alcohol?
- What is their favorite kind of weather?
- What is one place other than their own bed they will often end up falling asleep?
- How do they comfort or care for themselves when their in a slump?
- What do their keep on their nightstand?
- What is the first thing that comes to mind when they think of home?
- Is their an object or possession that has significant meaning to them?
- What do they consider to be the best thing they’ve ever done?
- What do they consider to be the worst thing they’ve ever done? Are they guilty?
- How do they mourn?
- How do they behave when they’re angry?
- Do they have a secret? What is it?
- What do they first notice about people? Eyes? A smile? (etc.)
- Do they have any regrets? Are they haunted by these regrets?
- How old were they when they feel they stopped being a kid? Did something happen?
- What are some of their favorites things? Books? Songs? Movies? (etc.) Does your character associate any of these things with a particularly good memory?
- How close are they to their native language, dialect, and/or culture?
- What are they afraid of? How do they deal with these fears?
- Do they know who they are? Do they understand themselves? If not, are they trying to figure things out?
- How would they describe themselves? Their personality? Achievements? their place in the world, among their friends?
- What/who would they die for? Kill for? Live for?
- How would they prefer to die? Why?
Here are several other well known questionnaires:
I recommend that you only use around fifty questions. While questionnaires are a useful jumping off point, you will learn the most about your character by writing with them. Stay tuned for more on that.
What are you favorite questions and questionnaires? Let me know in the comments below!