The Write Practice website is filled with a plethora of helpful articles and interesting exercises for writers. As I am in the middle of National Novel Writing Month, I found one particular article very useful early on. Joe Bunting wrote an article titled “35 Questions to Ask Your Characters From Marcel Proust”. Marcel Proust was a famous French Writer that was asked these questions by a friend when he was young. His responses were sold for over 100,000 euros in 2003.
It’s a fairly random selection of questions to ask your character for a development exercise and it’s really quite helpful. Sometimes questions don’t exactly apply if you’re writing up some high fantasy piece, or maybe some won’t work out with scifi characters, but it’s fun to do nonetheless and most of the answers are very important to understanding your character. The questions are:
- What is your idea of perfect happiness?
- What is your greatest fear?
- What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
- What is the trait you most deplore in others?
- Which living person do you most admire?
- What is your greatest extravagance?
- What is your current state of mind?
- What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
- On what occasion do you lie?
- What do you most dislike about your appearance?
- Which living person do you most despise?
- What is the quality you most like in a man?
- What is the quality you most like in a woman?
- Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
- What or who is the greatest love of your life?
- When and where were you happiest?
- Which talent would you most like to have?
- If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
- What do you consider your greatest achievement?
- If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?
- Where would you most like to live?
- What is your most treasured possession?
- What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
- What is your favorite occupation?
- What is your most marked characteristic?
- What do you most value in your friends?
- Who are your favorite writers?
- Who is your hero of fiction?
- Which historical figure do you most identify with?
- Who are your heroes in real life?
- What are your favorite names?
- What is it that you most dislike?
- What is your greatest regret?
- How would you like to die?
- What is your motto?
The list of questions here is such a valuable resource because any sort of lists like this, asking you about your characters or prompting you to think more deeply about them, helps your characters to be more believable to readers. If they feel like real people with real motivations, then your reader’s will have emotion towards them. It’s also an interesting set piece to ask yourself. A lot of these questions you wouldn’t think about when you’re first coming up with the idea of characters. Such as how they would want to die, or what they value most in friends.
Character development is such an important step in writing and storytelling, that a lot of people don’t delve too deeply in, and it’s a shame. Some of the most memorable characters in fiction you would be able to assume the answer to a lot of the questions above, because the authors knew them enough to help the audience see them as well.