In any story you write, regardless of how plot-heavy it is, the characters are crucial. But your readers won’t be able to fully submerge themselves in your story if you’re not even sure who your protagonists (and antagonists) are. They’re not just letters on a page. Well, not entirely. These are people with full life stories, even if we only see a portion of it. To add depth to what we in the writing world call “flat” characters, try “asking” them these ten questions. These are almost guaranteed to bring up thrilling elements that you probably never guessed would exist. And if they’re especially wild, you might even find that your plot changes as well. Proceed with caution, and get ready to know your characters better than you ever thought possible.
1. What do you look like?
This one’s pretty straightforward, but important. If your reader is a visual person like I am, they’ll want to be able to “see” your characters in their head. This gives them the roadmap to do that while still staying true to your vision.
2. What do you like to do for fun?
Hobbies and skills are a huge part of your character, so make them as intriguing (or as boring) as you want. I was recently helping a client with character development like this. Although this character really didn’t want to do much beyond her work life, we were able to tease that out so it effectively became her personality trait.
3. What would you change about yourself if you could?
This can be physical or emotional – but either way, you’ll learn a lot about your character. Maybe they hate their hot temper, or their tendency to please others even at their own expense. Or maybe they’re insecure about their smile, or slightly pointed ears. Be as random or relatable as you want with this.
4. What do you hate the most?
Maybe it’s another character, or a particular situation. It doesn’t have to be deep – unless of course, it is. This is where you can get a sense of their moral standings if you go deep.
5. What keeps you up at night?
Your character’s prone to one specific kind of nightmare. Ask them to name it. Maybe that then points back to a deeper insecurity, thus adding depth to the picture in your head. The cool thing about these kinds of questions, is that they often twist and turn around in each other. That brings extra complexity to your story as a result.
6. What are you striving for?
These are their hopes, dreams, and aspirations for the future. Maybe they want to be a pop star, or engineer the next wonder of the world. The sky is the limit – literally.
7. Do you have any regrets?
Once again, these questions don’t have to be deep to be impactful. Maybe they regret tripping in front of their crush at the dance, or sticking their foot in their mouth at their great-aunt’s funeral.
8. Who are your closest friends?
Or maybe they don’t have any. Your character might mention that they’re closer to their family. Or perhaps they fit a lot better with their “found family” of misfits that all relate to the same kind of particular struggles (The Pogues as seen in the Netflix show Outer Banks are a great example). Who they’re attracted to is also a big contributor to this element. Tease these connections out for more facets of personality that will color your narrative.
9. Do you have any big struggles?
They may, or might not. Or maybe they will but will refuse to share until later – that’s totally okay too. We can’t push them too hard, after all. Our stories can’t thrive if they shut us out of their head. So instead, be gentle with your questions, but do what it takes to get the answers – eventually.
10. What is your worst-case scenario?
This one will clue you in to exactly what might push your plot forward. Think about the worst possible thing that could happen to them, and write it into the story. They’ll hate you for it, or course – but only until the resolution that is better than they could have ever imagined. That is, if you can trust them at all. To learn more about unreliable narrators and the havoc that can ensue if you aren’t familiar with them, read this recent article HERE.
I heard one time that the characters you write are often a piece of your own personality, but exaggerated. I’m not sure if this is always true, but I can imagine that it is often the case. So use this exercise as an opportunity to get to know yourself right alongside your characters. You don’t have to be friends, but this process is definitely a lot easier if you are.