Monday, August 5, 2013

Twenty Questions for a Mysterious Character

When I first began to write, I soon became aware that my characters were, well, shallow. The plot pushed them around; their attitudes and outlooks changed from moment to moment. From somewhere - I don't remember where - I picked up on the concept of Twenty Questions.

Basically, you create a sketch outline for your character. You begin by asking yourself twenty questions about the person and answering them. They begin with the character's physical appearance, and they progress to the crucial issues in the character's life. By the time you finish thinking of, and writing down, the answers, you know your character much better.

Examples (your mileage may vary because you come up with your own questions)


  1. What is the character's gender?
  2. What is the character's age?
  3. What are the character's eye color, hair color, and complexion?
  4. What are the character's weight and height?
  5. What feature of the character is memorable to those meeting the character for the first time?
  6. What one feature of the character would the character change, and why?
  1. Where was the character born, and under what circumstances?
  2. Who were the character's parents?
  3. What was the character's childhood like?
  4. How did the character do in school?
  5. What kinds of partners is the character attracted to?
  1. Where does the character live?
  2. What work does the character do, if any? If none, why?
  3. What activities make the character happiest?
  4. What activities or circumstances upset or distress the character?
  5. What is the character's voice like when the character is tense, happy, frightened, or angry?
  1. What is the character's greatest secret fear?
  2. What is the character's favorite possession, and why is it a favorite?
  3. What does the character want more than anything but cannot have?
  4. What action or thought is utterly beyond the character's ability?
Having come this far, you may want to elaborate. That's fine. You should. Ask more questions. Find out what the character's great need (recognized or unrecognized) is; discover what the character's trigger points are for rage, for fear, for love.

Then write a biography of the character. Make it at least a thousand words long, longer if you really want to know the character. Zero in on the character's needs, desires, fears, and goals.

You're standing on the brink of a story.

No comments:

Post a Comment