Sometimes a character comes into my head fully formed. Sometimes they are shadowy. Sometimes they are shy like real people and I have to get to know them slowly. Interviewing them is good.
These 21 questions are one of my favourite ways of interviewing them. I may not know the answers, but the character often will. Does that sound mad? Probably, but I’ve never claimed to be completely sane. I’ve used these questions, or variations of them, with dozens of students. So I thought I’d reproduce them here. Hope it’s helpful.
- Name, age & sex.
- Brief physical appearance. List 3 things.
- What is your character’s current problem?
- Personality type – extrovert, introvert bossy etc.
- Where does your character live? Flat, house, rural, city etc.
- What, if anything, would make your character laugh or cry?
- What is your character’s soft spot/weakness?
- What is your character really good at?
- What is your character afraid of?
- What would make your character furious?
- If your character had one wish, what would it be?
- How does your character view money?
- Does your character have any prejudices? If so, what?
- What are your character’s main qualities?
- What are your character’s main faults?
- Does your character get on with their parents? Siblings? Friends? Neighbours?
- What is your character’s biggest secret?
- What is the most defining experience your character has ever had?
- Who is the last person your character argued with and why?
- Summarise your character in a sentence. Pick 3 significant things. E.g. Dora is 82, wears mismatching clothes on purpose and likes to shock her rather pompous son.
One of my favourite things about this particular character sheet is that it doubles up as a plot creation tool. For example Q4 is the basis of a short story or longer piece of fiction.
Q18 is quite good too, when it comes to plotting. Q19 is one of my favourites when it comes to novels and getting the psychology right.
If you can do Q21 you will probably know your character pretty well.
My next course, How to Write and Sell Short Stories is at a new venue. Shaftesbury, Dorset. The course will be small – a maximum of 10. (The venue is small.) It will run on Saturday 12 November between 10.00 and 4.00 and costs £45. This course is suitable for beginners as well as experienced writers and I hope students will go away with the beginning of a short story, the ending of a short story, (hopefully the same one!) and a good idea of how to develop the middle. Please email me via this website (or leave a comment) if you would like to book a place.
If you would like to know more about writing short stories, please check out my book, The Short Story Writer’s Toolshed. £2.49 for Kindle. £4.99 in paperback.