interviewing your characters

100+ Questions to Help You Interview Your Character

How well do you know your characters? Like the back of my hand, you say? Do you know the color of your hero’s eyes? Do you know where the bad guy went to college? Do you know your heroine’s most embarrassing moment? Can you rattle off a list of your main character’s idiosyncrasies? Typical expressions? Romantic history?

If any one of these questions had you fumbling for an answer, then you’re missing a prime opportunity to deepen your characters and expand your story. Over the years, one of the most useful tools I’ve run across is the “character interview.” My own list started out as twenty or so basic questions regarding physical appearance and personality issues. Now it contains over fifty precise and penetrating questions, designed to get my brain juices flowing and my characters talking.

Interviewing your characters may become a vital part of your outlining process, as it has mine. I’ll often fill up half a notebook with narrative answers to the most probing questions about my characters’ relationships, beliefs, and secrets. I refer to these lists constantly throughout the actual writing process, not only for on-the-spot inspiration, but for fact checking (How old was he when his mother died? Did he break his left or his right leg in that car accident?).

Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success by K.M. WeilandI’ve included below the list I’ve compiled for myself. Feel free to copy it out and use it to get your own characters talking. (Note: Since writing this post, I’ve updated this list when nearly fifty more questions. You can find a longer list in my free e-book Crafting Unforgettable Characters and the complete list in my book Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success.)

Other Options for Interviewing Your Characters

You might also want to keep in mind several other useful techniques, including the enneagram (any-a-gram), a personality test that aligns character traits to one of nine categories and outlines strengths and flaws. Not only is it interesting reading, but it can also help round out a character and summarize his personality. Something I’ve found especially helpful is the “fatal flaw” that accompanies each personality.

Crafting Unforgettable CharactersFinally, should you run across a taciturn character who refuses to let you into his deeper psyche, try a “freehand interview.” Instead of forcing your character into the rigidity of the set questions in a regular interview, just throw him onto the page and start asking him questions: What’s the matter with you? What are you hiding from me? You’ll be surprised what you can drag out of your characters using this method.

All three of these tools, used in concert, can work miracles in breaking open the walls between author and character and forcing your characters to spill their guts and reveal their deepest motivations. Plus, it’s grand fun!

Character Interview

Name:

Background:

Place of birth:

Parents:

Siblings:

Ethnic background:

Places lived:

Current address and phone number:

Education:

Favorite subject in school:

Special training:
Jobs:

Salary:

Travel:

Friends:

Enemies:

Dating, marriage:

Children:

What people does he most admire:

Relationship with God:

Overall outlook on life:

Does this character like himself:

What, if anything, would he like to change about his life:

Is he lying to himself about something?

How is he viewed by others:

Physical appearance:

Physical build:

Posture:

Head shape:

Eyes:

Nose:

Mouth:

Hair

Skin:

Tattoos/piercings/scars:

Voice:

Right- or left-handed:

Handicap:

What you notice first:

Clothing:

How would he describe himself:

Health/disabilities:

Characteristics:

Strongest/weakest character traits:

How much self-control and self-discipline does he have:

Fears:

Political leaning:

Collections, talents:

What people like best about him:

Interests and favorites:

Food, drink:

Music:

Books:

Movies:

Sports, recreation:

Did he play in school:

Color:

Best way to spend a weekend:

A great gift for this person:

Pets:

Vehicle:

Typical expressions:

When happy:

When angry:

When sad:

Idiosyncrasies:

Laughs or jeers at:

Ways to cheer up this person:

Ways to annoy this person:

Hopes and dreams:

What’s the worst thing he’s ever done to someone and why:

Greatest success:

Biggest trauma:

What does he care about most in the world:

Does he have a secret:

What does/will he like best about the other main character(s):

What does/will he like least about the other main character(s):

If he could do one thing and succeed at it, what would it be:

Most embarrassing thing that ever happened to him:

He is the kind of person who:

Why will the reader sympathize with this person right away:

History:

Tell me your opinion: How do you get to know your characters?

100 Plus Questions to  Help You Interview Your Character

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.

Comments

  1. Copied this off to use. Thanks for this exhaustive list. Great information!

  2. Thanks for a great list. Can’t wait to apply it!

  3. Glad you found it helpful! I can’t take complete credit for it, since I’ve gleaned questions from all kinds of sources.

  4. I went and used this for all my characters, even though I had planned them fairly extensively already. I learnt things I didn’t even know about them from these, if that makes sense haha =]
    Thanks for posting this up

  5. I’ve added to this list quite a bit since originally posting it. If you’re interested, you can find the updated version in my free ebook Crafting Unforgettable Characters, in the top of the left sidebar.

  6. This is a big help to me! Now I need to read your e-book! Thank you for the info–I’m afraid I’m using your information as a mini-writing course.

  7. The e-book Crafting Unforgettable Characters has an expanded version of the interview, and Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success has an even bigger one!

  8. I should note that this does not work with everyone. Some writers find interviewing their characters to be counterproductive; if they know everything about the character before they begin, there’s nothing for them to discover about the character through storytelling.

  9. Everyone has to find the techniques that work best for them. Most authors find the interview very helpful, but like outlining, some find it stilts their creativity.

  10. Nice. I started to fill it out with me as the character, but didn’t like what I was seeing. So I’ll stick with the made-up ones.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Hah! I’ve actually thought about filling it out for myself. It’d take too much time, but it’d be interesting to see how I’d stack up against my made-up people.

  11. Steve Mathisen says:

    Excellent list…whatever the source. Thanks for compiling them.

  12. I always mean to ask when I see you mention working on character sketches what you use. Thank you. Very useful list.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      If you’ve followed the Writing Question of the Day (#WQOTD) on Facebook or Twitter for the last several months, then you’ve probably seen (and maybe answered) most of these questions already.

  13. I pretty much do the same thing. I was taught this in high school, but not to this depth. This is great stuff and I will use it. Oh…and you’ve given me another reason to get your Outlining book. I’ve been procrastinating because I already have an outlining method I’m happy with… but, I also had a character question list I “was” happy with and you blew that out of the water. Darn you woman! LOL :)

  14. So good! Invaluable. I’ve been looking for this since I started writing my own young adult fiction. Thanks.

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