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Core Questions To Ask Your Character

by Greer | Content Lead | Writing Tips | Characterisation

Creating a character that is memorable, worthy of your reader’s attention, and an asset to your story’s plot is no easy feat. That said, knowing vital aspects of your character is most of the battle. Get there with these core questions!



What disadvantages do they have?


Disadvantages should help form obstacles. These could be personal flaws, such as being prone to anger or jealousy, or situational setbacks, like coming from a deprived background or cold family. Try to link their hardship to their goals. You can do this by asking what it is about their disadvantage that stops them from going forward, or how has their disadvantage put them in a situation they want out of. Someone whose problems could be solved with money might have the disadvantage of being poor. A boy with no fighting experience is disadvantaged if suddenly thrust into a battle. You can season these hardships to fit in with your theme, genre or setting. One way to truly illustrate a particular time period or location is to give your character obstacles linked to them. For example, a strong, intelligent and capable woman living in the Victorian era will have to overcome society’s view of a woman’s place to achieve her potential or solve an injustice.



What would make them truly happy and content?


A character arc is working towards a better, happier world for them – however that looks. This goes for both protagonists and antagonists, and knowing what would make them content will help you find motivations for their actions. It will also help you identify where you have accidentally planned characters to act against their motives. Try to personalise it when multiple characters share overarching goals: two characters could share a desire to overcome a villain, but only one might want to do this in order to explore the world afterwards, and the other might be seeking a safer world in which to start a family with their love interest. Additionally, do not belittle the contentment of villains. To be believable and fleshed out, a villain's desires should make sense within their context or experiences, and their motivations go on to impact their actions. A bad guy shouldn't want to destroy a portion of the world 'just because' - identify why their life would be better from their evil deeds.



What have they suffered?


Experiences influence us, and to know a character's present, we must first explore their past. Understanding what they have suffered – humiliation, abuse, a mundane and boring home-life, persecution, loss – clarifies how they might speak, act, or think. A past experience may make some more nervous about going down a certain path or it may make them hardened and less afraid of similar threats. It is also important to note lack of suffering, especially when you want to draw a contrast between multiple characters. A victim of prejudice may be a good deal more cynical or apprehensive about the world than someone who has always received a warm welcome - how could this change how they both tackle the same problem? Use their past to inform their actions or highlight personal growth!


What are the most key relationships in their life?


Relationships also hugely influence who we are. Define your character’s key relationships, analyse their impact, and how this relates to their part in your story. The good and bad qualities of one character could rub off on or push away another. Family relationships are often good places to start: what sort of home-life did they have growing up, and how would their expectations of family reflect in their choices later? Friends and mentors may be other areas you can draw from, but not all key relationships need to be positive. In fact, having a rival figure or persecutor close to them opens up more avenues to explore. Gaining or losing such key relationships will also have strong repercussions which should be given due attention.



What is their historical context?


The life of a lowly pauper in 17th century London will be a stark contrast to that of a French aristocrat of the same period, and both are worlds apart from a modern-day American teen. In both historical and contemporary fiction, a character’s time and location are hugely influential. Do plenty of research into the time and place of your story setting. Creating your own world? Be prepared to fully map out your world's sociological structure by acknowledging where differences in experiences would occur.


What are their blind spots?


Blind spots are the realities your character is either oblivious to or deliberately choosing to ignore but are very obvious to the reader and other characters. They are not necessarily flaws as they can be used to redeem a character, but often they are considered something to overcome before the end of the story. Blind spots can also be aspects of your character which will see no dramatic result, serving only to add more character dimensions for your reader to enjoy or perhaps just something you as the writer are aware of. Some things we can keep just for ourselves.



What do they fear?


Fear is often what stops us from taking action, and you can use your character’s fears to achieve numerous outcomes. The result of being too scared to act could lead to someone’s demise, damage their chances of achieving their goal, or put strain on relationships. Overcoming fear is usually a turning point in both plot and personal journey and is a fantastic way to enhance a character arc. As you plan, question how a character's fears would influence their actions at pivotal moments and use this to create dramatic results.



What makes them unique?


There should be no confusing two characters, and making each individual stand out is your duty – even those only in a couple of scenes. Utilising what they are passionate about or adverse to and merging them with their past is a great way of achieving this. A man who likes to travel is one thing, but it is more unique if he feels anxious staying in one place for too long due to his childhood being spent ‘on the run’ with his criminal parents. Create a one-sentence summery of why each character is unique, and if they also remind you of another character (yours or elsewhere in the fiction-verse) you might want to invest more time in distinguishing them. Through asking these sort of questions, you should have a clear understanding of who each of your main characters are. Obviously, you should share every last detail with your readers, right? Far from it! You are in a very special position knowing all there is to know, but be selective of what aspects you share in the story. Sometimes, holding back certain facts can create a good air of mystery and intrigue. Enjoy your increased knowledge, and only share parts you want to!


Creating a character that is memorable, worthy of your reader’s attention, and an asset to your story’s plot is no easy feat. That said, knowing vital aspects of your character is most of the battle. Get there with these core questions!



What disadvantages do they have?


Disadvantages should help form obstacles. These could be personal flaws, such as being prone to anger or jealousy, or situational setbacks, like coming from a deprived background or cold family. Try to link their hardship to their goals. You can do this by asking what it is about their disadvantage that stops them from going forward, or how has their disadvantage put them in a situation they want out of. Someone whose problems could be solved with money might have the disadvantage of being poor. A boy with no fighting experience is disadvantaged if suddenly thrust into a battle. You can season these hardships to fit in with your theme, genre or setting. One way to truly illustrate a particular time period or location is to give your character obstacles linked to them. For example, a strong, intelligent and capable woman living in the Victorian era will have to overcome society’s view of a woman’s place to achieve her potential or solve an injustice.



What would make them truly happy and content?


A character arc is working towards a better, happier world for them – however that looks. This goes for both protagonists and antagonists, and knowing what would make them content will help you find motivations for their actions. It will also help you identify where you have accidentally planned characters to act against their motives. Try to personalise it when multiple characters share overarching goals: two characters could share a desire to overcome a villain, but only one might want to do this in order to explore the world afterwards, and the other might be seeking a safer world in which to start a family with their love interest. Additionally, do not belittle the contentment of villains. To be believable and fleshed out, a villain's desires should make sense within their context or experiences, and their motivations go on to impact their actions. A bad guy shouldn't want to destroy a portion of the world 'just because' - identify why their life would be better from their evil deeds.



What have they suffered?


Experiences influence us, and to know a character's present, we must first explore their past. Understanding what they have suffered – humiliation, abuse, a mundane and boring home-life, persecution, loss – clarifies how they might speak, act, or think. A past experience may make some more nervous about going down a certain path or it may make them hardened and less afraid of similar threats. It is also important to note lack of suffering, especially when you want to draw a contrast between multiple characters. A victim of prejudice may be a good deal more cynical or apprehensive about the world than someone who has always received a warm welcome - how could this change how they both tackle the same problem? Use their past to inform their actions or highlight personal growth!


What are the most key relationships in their life?


Relationships also hugely influence who we are. Define your character’s key relationships, analyse their impact, and how this relates to their part in your story. The good and bad qualities of one character could rub off on or push away another. Family relationships are often good places to start: what sort of home-life did they have growing up, and how would their expectations of family reflect in their choices later? Friends and mentors may be other areas you can draw from, but not all key relationships need to be positive. In fact, having a rival figure or persecutor close to them opens up more avenues to explore. Gaining or losing such key relationships will also have strong repercussions which should be given due attention.



What is their historical context?


The life of a lowly pauper in 17th century London will be a stark contrast to that of a French aristocrat of the same period, and both are worlds apart from a modern-day American teen. In both historical and contemporary fiction, a character’s time and location are hugely influential. Do plenty of research into the time and place of your story setting. Creating your own world? Be prepared to fully map out your world's sociological structure by acknowledging where differences in experiences would occur.


What are their blind spots?


Blind spots are the realities your character is either oblivious to or deliberately choosing to ignore but are very obvious to the reader and other characters. They are not necessarily flaws as they can be used to redeem a character, but often they are considered something to overcome before the end of the story. Blind spots can also be aspects of your character which will see no dramatic result, serving only to add more character dimensions for your reader to enjoy or perhaps just something you as the writer are aware of. Some things we can keep just for ourselves.



What do they fear?


Fear is often what stops us from taking action, and you can use your character’s fears to achieve numerous outcomes. The result of being too scared to act could lead to someone’s demise, damage their chances of achieving their goal, or put strain on relationships. Overcoming fear is usually a turning point in both plot and personal journey and is a fantastic way to enhance a character arc. As you plan, question how a character's fears would influence their actions at pivotal moments and use this to create dramatic results.



What makes them unique?


There should be no confusing two characters, and making each individual stand out is your duty – even those only in a couple of scenes. Utilising what they are passionate about or adverse to and merging them with their past is a great way of achieving this. A man who likes to travel is one thing, but it is more unique if he feels anxious staying in one place for too long due to his childhood being spent ‘on the run’ with his criminal parents. Create a one-sentence summery of why each character is unique, and if they also remind you of another character (yours or elsewhere in the fiction-verse) you might want to invest more time in distinguishing them. Through asking these sort of questions, you should have a clear understanding of who each of your main characters are. Obviously, you should share every last detail with your readers, right? Far from it! You are in a very special position knowing all there is to know, but be selective of what aspects you share in the story. Sometimes, holding back certain facts can create a good air of mystery and intrigue. Enjoy your increased knowledge, and only share parts you want to!


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