40 Questions to recognize your why?


Why did I list off these character names? Because these characters that matter to me. These are just a few characters from various works of fiction that have resonated with me and remained beloved friends.

Yes. Friends.

 

So how do you create characters that matter to your readers as much as these guys? You stop viewing your character as a character and start viewing them as a friend.

And how do you make a friend? You get to know someone on a deeper level. You spend enough time with them that you build trust and share more than just your favourite songs and ice cream flavours with one another. You truly open up and bond over the deep stuff. The stuff that no one knows helped shape who you are today.

 

I’ve listed below 40 profound, deeply important questions to ask your characters. These questions are meant to help you realize any gaps you’ve missed in character creation and fill those in. They’ll matter to your readers, even if they never know this fact about your character. They’ll help you view your character as a person and no longer a spark of an idea haunting your thoughts. These questions will help you formulate a strong, well-defined, believable character readers will invest in. 

 

Feel free to write down your character’s answers to these questions. I’ve written them in such a way that it’s as if your character is sitting right in front of you as you ask these questions. So pull up a photo or even a drawing of what they look like and- at the risk of looking like a crazy person- ask them these questions!

 

Then, save those thoughts and use them as a template as you write your character’s next step.

 

 

1. What is your darkest childhood memory?

(Why this question?)

 

The childhood stuff matters. Bright, beautiful memories matter as much as the dark ones. Sure, we don’t value the dark ones the way we value the bright, but whether we’re aware of it or not, the dark ones influence our life choices as well.

The same must be true for your character. So think about your character’s past and sculpt it honestly. Don’t hide the nasty bits. Acknowledge them and understand how they’ve shaped your character’s personality and worldview.

 

 

2. What bad habit are you struggling to overcome?

 

3. Why does your journey matter to you personally?

(Why this question?)

 

We’re not talking about your character’s wish to save the world or bring world peace. Everyone wants that. But that’s general and no one risks their life just to bring world peace. There must be something personal involved- an accepted belief or emotion tied to your character’s journey that drives him. What is on the line? What is at stake? Who is at risk of death if your character DOESN’T act? How does this involve him personally? See, this question opens up a quizlet questionnaire all on its own, begging you to look deeper! 

 

4. What does a perfect world look like to you?

(Why this question?)

 

Not everyone views the world in the same light. Some folks think the world is fine the way it is- others see tragedy and looming disaster on the horizon. What does your character think about their world? Why? Your perfect world may not be their idea of a perfect world, so pry into their brain and discover the lens they choose to view the world through.

 

5. What smell or scent reminds you of your childhood home?

(Why this question?)

 

According to Psychology Today, “A number of behavioural studies have demonstrated that smells trigger more vivid emotional memories and are better at inducing that feeling of “being brought back in time” than images.”

 

What does the smell of warm apple pie remind you of? Perhaps it brings back cosy 

 

 

, happy images of time spent at your grandma’s house on a snowy winter’s eve. What about the smell of day old cat food? Perhaps it reminds you of your mischevious childhood cat Mr Scruffles. And on the other end of the spectrum- what does the smell of truck fumes remind you of? Does it trigger tension or anxiety because it reminds you of being stuck in traffic?

 

What smells trigger certain memories for your characters? What special memories or haunting memories do these smells resurrect for them? What emotion is struck when they smell this certain scent?

 

6. What is your biggest regret?

 

7. Who was your childhood sweetheart?

 

8. What do you fear losing the most?

(Why this question?)

 

 

The loss comes in many forms. It could be the loss of a loved one in death, loss of a romantic relationship, loss of a bet, loss of a best friend, loss of a job or professional position, even loss of one’s pride. What kind of loss would absolutely cripple this character?

 

 

9. Is there a secret spot you like to retreat to? If there is, why that spot?

 

10. Do you have a family member that's ever let you down? If so, how has that affected you?

11. Are you afraid to be alone?

12. Are you proud of who you are?

13. What keeps you up at night?

14. What was your favourite stuffed animal or toy as a kid?

(Why this question?)

 

Memories are protected within childhood toys. It may have been a while since we’ve seen our own favourite childhood stuffed animal. Or if you’re like me, yours is still happily sitting on your shelf, looking down on you as you write.

 

The point is, some piece of yourself is left behind in that tangible memory. Your heart is warmed when you think about when you got it, who gave it to you, why you kept that particular toy for so long, why you patched it up when it got worn out. It got you through hard times, it soaked up many tears and it helped keep the monsters under your bed at bay. Like a sponge, your old friend has soaked up countless memories that actually matter to you as a person, even now.

 

So what is your character’s reason for loving this particular toy so much? What memories has it soaked up from his childhood?

 

15. What was your worst injury ever?

16. What song makes you think of your crush?

17. What was your bravest moment?

18. Who can make you smile no matter how bad you feel?

19. What is one thing you always carry with you?

(Why this question?)

 

What we have by our side at all times reveals much about us. For instance, my brother is a hunter. He carries a swiss army knife with him at all times. It doesn’t mean he thinks he’ll find a buck while doing a quick run to the Mall, but it does define his character.

My husband is a character designer. He takes his iPad Pro and Apple Pencil with him everywhere. Absolutely everywhere. Why? “Because you just never know when inspiration will strike,” he says. I agree, hon 

The point is, these subtle, seemingly unimportant facts about us actually represent a great deal of what we believe in or aspire to be. They also accurately represent our mindset.

 

20. Who is one person you would never ever want to see again? Why?

21. What, to you, is the worst way to die?

22. You can bring one person back to life. Who would you choose and why?

23. Is it easy to admit when you've made a mistake?

24. Is it easy for you to forgive others? (Truly?)

25. You're on your death bed. Whom do you want by your side?

26. Your childhood bully has grown up to be a philanthropist. Do you praise him and give to his cause? Or do you turn a shoulder to him and scoff?

27. Whom would you want to raise your child if you die unexpectedly?

28. Do you suffer from a reoccurring nightmare? If so, what happens in it?

29. What do you notice first about a person?

(Why this question?)

 

What we notice first about a person doesn’t necessarily say something about ourselves. It simply reveals what we’ve been subconsciously trained to determine others. A quick scan of another person does many things for us as humans: it tells us if we might have something in common with this stranger, it tells us if the scenario we’ve entered is a safe one or not, it also tells us if we find the person attractive or not.

For me, the first thing I look at when I see a stranger is their hair and then my eyes immediately fall to their shoes. It’s hilarious but I do this absolutely every single time. Now, I am by no means a shoe fanatic or a hair fiend. But a person’s hairstyle and shoe choice actually tell me a great deal about who they are.

So your character must do the same. Where does your character’s eye line go? What do they notice when a meet a new person or watch passersby? Why do they notice this? Why do particular things stand out to them more than others? What does it mean to them as a person? Believe it or not but all these little questions actually help craft a very specific character!

 

30. Do you find it difficult to praise others?

31. Which colour do you feel looks best on you?

32. What's your drink of choice?

(Why this question?) 

 

The subtle nuances of personality are the strongest building block of a unique identity. A drink of choice tells others how we choose to relax or have fun.

Think about Bond… James Bond. He takes his martinis shaken not stirred. What’s Lorelai Gilmore’s drink of choice? (at even the latest of hours) And remember the scene where Legolas has a drinking contest with Gimli? Who wins and why? 

 

So, believe it or not, even this little detail can help craft your character, even your world!

 

So is your character’s drink of choice an alcoholic beverage? Do they drink too much or at an inappropriate time? Do they drink coffee at a late hour? Or mayhaps you’ve got a tea connoisseur for a character. Would they take their tea with sugar or milk? And what would be their go-to flavour?

 

We all have a favourite drink. So should your character. It seems like nothing, but it’s the little details that craft a distinctly unique character.

 

 

33. Which parent do you take after more?

(If they know their parents)

 

 

34. What quality of your parent do you admire? Abhor?

(If they know their parents)

(Why this question?)

 

The qualities we admire about our parents may sometimes reveal where we think we may lack. It isn’t necessarily true either, as we often see ourselves in a poor light.

However, what we don’t like about our parents usually decides how we want to be as adults. The choices we make in our lives will be influenced by this view about our parents. We will either strongly avoid that specific trait, or unbeknownst to us, adopt the same trait ourselves.

 

Therefore, our characters should have the same predicament if this applies to their situation. Characters are greatly affected by marvellous or poor parenting styles either way, just as we are. But if they’re an orphan or they don’t know who their parents are, then this doesn’t apply, obvi.

 

 

35. Do you wish to be a loner? Or have a family one day?

(Or if they already have a family, do they enjoy family life or regret it?)

 

 

36. What odd habits or ticks do you have?

37. Have you travelled to other lands? Or planets, even?

38. Do you feel a need to fix or repair problems that don't directly involve you?

(Why this question?)

 

Two of your closest friends have been fighting with one another. The argument doesn’t involve you at all, but do you feel the need to intervene? To make things right? Is your involvement going to be appreciated or resented?

Sometimes peeps put everyone’s problems on themselves- like it’s up to them to fix every issue they face (peeps including a plus 1 over here). And sometimes they feel like it’s their fault if they don’t repair the situation properly.

 

Is your character this same type of person? Would others view the way your character involves himself as selfless and caring? Or as intrusive and meddling? How will this character’s habit affect your plot or storyline?

 

39. How do you view other races or cultures?

40. Do you worry about what the future will bring?

 

 

 

 

 

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