Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Getting to Know the Characters

There are people buzzing around my head, but at this point, they are vagueness... a hint of something bigger to come. I have a hint of the journey they are on, a hint of where they are going to end up, and a hint of where they have been.

It's time to flesh them out. Time to figure out exactly who it is I'm dealing with.

So here it is: my interview questions, completely and shamelessly ripped off from Noah Lukeman's book, The Plot Thickens.

Physical Appearance:
1. What is his facial structure? Face shape? Facial hair? skin color? glasses?
2. Hair: color, texture, length, style, dyed?
3. Age? Are their physical signs of it?
4. Body: height and build
5. Clothing: what style or colors do they usually wear? Expensive? Thrift?
6. Body Language: how do they walk? hold themselves?

Medical Background:
1. general healthy or sick?
2. Any chronic illnesses? Disabilities? Past injuries that effect them now?

Family Background:
1.What kind of family did they grow up in?
2. How many parents did they have? Siblings?
3. What was their socio-economic situation growing up?
4. Are they married? Do they have kids?
5. What is their relationships like with their parents, siblings and spouse? What things might they fight about?

1. How much schooling do they have? At what age did they complete their education?
2. Are they satisfied with their level of education?
3. Are they smart? Is their a discrepancy between education and intelligence?

1. What job does he have? What jobs has he had in the past? How long has he been in this position?
2. How does he feel about the job?
3. How do others in their job see them?

1. How do they handle money? Are they in debt?
2. How important is money to them? If they suddenly came into money, what would they do with it?

1. What are the major things does he own?
2. How does he value those things? What role do they play in his life?
3. What kind of vehicle does he own?
4. What kind of house or apartment does he live in? How does he feel about it?

1. What country, state and city do they live in? What kind of neighborhood?
2. Does this location play a part in who they are?

Pets: Do they own any?

Police Record: Do they have one?

Inherent Abilities: IQ, psychic, athletic, artistic, etc

Identity: How does he identify himself? A son? Father? Husband? Employee? Leader?

Belief: What do they believe in?


Sexual Experience

Motivation: What drives him? What are his goals and dreams and secret hopes?

Friendships: Who does he choose to keep around him?

Religion: What is his organized religion? I love what Lukeman says about this: "Religion may play a huge role in a person's life, or no part at all. Either route is telling."

Spirituality: what is their own faith and relationship to God outside organized religion?

***Look over the answers to this list: do any of these traits influence the plot? Could you base an entire plot off of one of those traits?***

This is really only the tip of the iceberg, but it's a great jumping off point. If you want really detailed questions, check out Noah Lukeman's book, because he brings up all sorts of great specific details to consider.

He does point out, which is a critical point, that these tidbits are to help these characters become real to you, but that the vast majority of these details will never - nor should never- be written into the story. They are the rounding out of the characters that allow them to act a certain way, talk a certain way, react to situations that arise in the book with authenticity.

Some of the questions may be quick, easy, one-word answers. Some might be more complicated. But taking the time to think them out will reap benefits far down the line.


  1. Great list!

    That sounds like a great book! Would you recommend it?

  2. Jen - absolutely! I think it's the best writing book I've ever read. It's very easy to read and has tons of very, very practical advice.

    Also, he's an agent, so he knows the industry and what they are looking for.

    To some extent when I first read it (when I was querying my first book), I thought, "Wow! I did a lot of things right!" and at the same time, "Wow! I could go back and revise and make this so much stronger!"

    Of course, instead I just wrote another book.

    Which, as it turns out, hasn't gotten me much closer anyway. :(

  3. I had a similar list, but was no way as comprehensive as this! In fact, when I was creating Frank, a small tidbit, about him visiting the grave of his wife every Sunday went "BAM!" backstory, inspiration and his entire being came just from that one list item. I find it tremendously helpful and will be printing this out for my file. Thanks!