Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Character Interview Questions

Hey, all!

I wanted to share a customized version of one of my favorite writing tools—the character interview. I'm sure you've all heard of this technique from countless resources, but these are the one hundred questions I personally find the most useful when I'm looking to get to the bottom of a new character. Sometimes I print the pages out and fill the answers in old-skool-style, other times I simply consult the list and type the answers into a new doc, a sort of biographical dossier. Either way, I find it very useful to respond in the character's voice.

In my opinion, these questions are best answered after you've spent a chapter or two with your new characters. Doing them at the outset to create a new character is problematic—there's a temptation to address each and every one profoundly, which can lead to attribute overload! Some of them simply won't apply. Instead I like to fill this out when I think I know a new hero or heroine. I have a handle on their personality after a few scenes, especially if they've been interacting with the other character(s). That's when it's time to ask some deeper questions and figure out what life experiences and attitudes shaped their values, humor, goals, fears, temperament, and so forth. Some of these questions include:
  • How deeply does your job / social role define you as a person?
  • What are you the most hopeless at?
  • Whom would you contact first to share good news?
  • Have you undergone any dramatic physical transformations in your life?
  • What would you never do, no matter the price?
  • Who has hurt you the worst in your life, and how? Have you forgiven them?
  • What has the hero/heroine changed your mind about since you met?
  • What secret would you feel the most vulnerable sharing with anyone?
  • Why should the reader care about your story?

And so on. Anyhow, enjoy! It's an exhaustive list, but I always come away from this exercise with a better understanding of the people living in my head. I hope you will too.

Click here to view or download the PDF.


  1. This looks really good! I've done these before with little success but the questions weren't as deep as these. And I love the print-out! Paper is so underrated.

  2. If you have the patience for it, I've found it to be a great tool. Though when I was working on my book with seven POV characters… Lordy, it was a heap of homework!

  3. I love the character interview. I tend to do mine before I start writing, but sometimes I change my mind about the answers as I go. Often, I'll be partway through the ms. and quite stuck, and I'll go back and read it and think, "Duh. There's the problem, right there."

  4. I've come across old interviews I did early in a book's process, and I'll read through the answers and think, "What? Why on earth did he/she say that?!" For example, I wrote a story with a reformed pyromaniac in it, and in his initial character interview that I revisited, I'd made fire his irrational fear. I guess in either case, I knew deep down he had an uncomfortable relationship with matches!