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Kim Tomsic

Friday, May 26, 2023

The 20 Best Questions to Ask Your Character When Writing a Novel


Action and plot are great, but without compelling characters, you’ve got zippo. 

You can transform your characters beyond ideas or paper dolls to living/breathing beings by giving them hopes, dreams, flaws, friends, foils, motives, stakes, passions, and more! How? Create a character bible! 

Many authors lean into character bibles rather than outlines to help them suss out their story. You can, too! 

By asking your protagonist a series of questions, you can uncover what your character wants, why they want it, what lengths they’ll go to get it, and what secrets they’re keeping. As you continue to get to know your character, you’ll discover what lies your protagonist believe about themselves, what they’re hiding in their sock drawer, and what decision they’ll make when given an impossible choice. 

I once attended a lecture on character lead by Marie Lu (author of NYT Bestselling series, Legend), and she said she spends two or three months creating a character bible before she starts writing a new story. By the way, in this episode of 88 Cups of Tea, she shares how music helped her create her villain’s voice. 

Invite me to speak at your school or conference! I lead a character bible workshop. First, I dissect the five benefits for crafting a character bible. Next, I walk participants through the process of unlocking your character’s motives, so they can create believable plots, rich stakes, and compelling stories.  Lastly, I provide worksheets so participants can continue building their characters at home. I look forward to an invitation to your conference or workshop! Contact me here.

In the meantime, here are some questions you can use to get started interviewing your characters:

1.        Write a paragraph describing R.O.A.R.S. (race, orientation, abilities and disabilities, religion, sex). How do they identify? What are their feelings/attitiude about their personal ROARS? 

2.       What are the top five things your character notices about their home, and who else lives there? How do they feel when they bring others inside their home? What sounds do they notice in their bedroom?

3.       What is your protagonist's flaw?

4.       What’s their most precious item in their room and why does it hold value to your protagonist? What are they hiding in their bedroom, where are they hiding it, and who are they hiding it from?

5.       Who's their best friend and what’s that origin story? How does their best friend support them and how do they disappoint them? What is the one thing that could change their relationship?

6.       Who is your protagonist's nemesis and why? 

7.       What’s the one thing your protagonist's doesn’t want the antagonist to know and what might it mean if it is found out?

8.       What's your protagonist's favorite smell and why (does it evoke a memory)? What is a particular smell that brings up bad memories and/or good memories?

9.       What is their source of comfort? What does your protagonist value the most? 

10.    What is the mystery, lore, or the gossip in their town?

11.     Where is their "safe place" and what would happen if that safe place was removed, disappeared, burned down, or was taken away?

12.    What’s the one thing they don’t want their best friend to know and why? What’s the one thing they don’t want their parents to know and whyt?

13.    Who is the foil character, and how does this character make the protagonist shine?

14.    What’s your potagonist’s proudest moment and why?

15.    What's their most embarrassing moment and why?

16.    What’s something that they can freely laugh about regarding their personality or quirks? 

17.    What’s something that really bothers them when others laugh about it? 

18.    What are the TOCs in their home (Traditions, Observations, Celebrations) and how does your protagonist feel about these events? – they can be real or made up.

19.    What do they carry in their pocket? What's their favorite thing to wear and why?

20.   What does your character want more than anything else, and what is at stake if they don't get it? 

Put the goods to work and think like Lisa Cron, author of Wired for Story, Story Genius, and other books on writing. She says to make sure every scene includes what your character wants, even if it's just a cup of water + ever scene has stakes. The reader should know what your character thinks will happen, what they hope will happen, and what is at stake.  

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