4 Questions to Ask Your Character
I am not one to outline my novels. I am more of a pantser than plotter, meaning I enjoy seeing where my story goes organically rather than planning the routes out in my first drafts.
That means I tend to have characters that I need to test in various situations throughout the novel to figure out their personalities, how they tick, and their relationships with the other characters. While there are a plethora of interview questions you can ask them — particularly the basics regarding their name, age, orientation, and physical attributes — these are my top five interview questions for my new characters.
1. Who is your favorite family member?
Not only does this question clue you into your character’s family as a whole, it’ll also help describe how their home life was before their adventure started. Choosing only one family member gives insight to what traits and values the character appreciates in others. How the character treats their favorite family member grants us how the character shows affection and love.
If their behavior at the beginning of the novel is a stark contrast to how they would act around this family member — for example, the character is touch-averse despite always greeting their mother with hugs while growing up — then it also clues the writer in to just how badly the character reacts to tragedy. It helps to flesh out the character’s background, what happened to bring them to where they are today.
2. What happens when you get drunk?
Or, in other words, “What are you like when you let your guard down?” Considering alcohol lowers people’s inhibitions, an inebriated character can showcase quite a bit. Are they finally able to relax? Do they let loose all of the insults that they’ve been keeping at the tip of their tongue? Do they get more courageous? Or more affectionate? What would shift in your character’s personality if there was nothing holding them back?
Even if the answer your character gives is, “I don’t drink,” it still gives you plenty of insight to their personality. Is it by personal choice that they don’t drink? Is it something as simple as they don’t like the taste of most alcohol? Are they afraid to drink, that they may get wasted enough to let slip a secret or two?
Whether they get drunk or not, this question allows you to know more about your character’s conscious decision making, how they come to the conclusions they reach or how they solve a problem in front of them.
3. What three things would you save from a house fire?
To put simply, this question helps determine what material items your character favors, which leads into why they favor it. If one item is a piece of jewelry, does it have more sentimental or monetary value? If it’s monetary value, did the character rescue it because of greed or practicality, wherein they could pawn the piece off to help with the costs of the house fire? Framed photos, notebooks, electronics, anything is fair game to give you a mental picture into your character’s psyche.
There is a tradition called the birthday grab that some parents present their children on their first birthdays. The child is presented with several items and tradition states that what they pick will determine their future. A child that picks the dollar bill may be wealthy or work in business. A cell phone may mean the child will be social, someone who thrives with people. A book could mean knowledge, a stuffed animal empathy for creatures. The house fire scenario works similarly for fictional characters.
4. What would be your role in the event of a zombie apocalypse?
The answers to the above questions help paint a picture of the character’s state of emotion, spirit, and mentality. This question, despite how silly it may sound, provides insight to their social standing.
Does your character picture herself as a leader, someone who will guide others to lands safe from zombies? Is he a protector, one who teaches himself the most effective way to kill a zombie before it hurts others? Are they crafty enough to make shields out of scraps, knowledgeable enough to use what little bandages they have effectively in the event of another getting hurt? Are they cautious enough to be an effective lookout, stealthy enough to be a looter, strong enough to build barriers?
Whatever the answer may be, it’ll let you know how your character sees themselves among their group of friends and allies.
An interesting way to flip this question on its head is to ask what your character believes what role their friends believe said character would fit, or what roles their allies would fill. If you ask multiple characters this question, it’d be interesting to see what each character will say about the others.
There are so many different questions that you could ask your characters in a mock interview. Diving deep into your characters’ heads as they respond and learning more about them is the best part of being a writer.