Asking the Right Questions with Character Interviews

Thank you so much to the team at Writers Helping Writers for asking me to be part of the Resident Writing Coaches program. I’m honoured and delighted to be working with such a wonderful community of writers and look forward to helping you with your craft.

Developing characters is one of the joys of writing and it’s a dream when we understand them and what they’re about. Inevitably, though, there comes a time when our characters do and say things that don’t make sense to us, we feel they’re one-dimensional, or we just don’t know how they should react to situations. This can stall our story.

Character interviews are a fabulous way to address these problems. Not only does interviewing your character help you learn more about them, you’ll be able to note the hesitations or uncertainties so you can drill deeper into those areas. It can also give you a better feel for their voice, which can sometimes be hard to nail down.

But there are so may interviews and questionnaires available on the internet, and we can lose a lot of time answering questions that may not be relevant to understanding our character. So how do we know which questions are the right questions? Which ones will help us dig deeper into our characters and, ultimately, strengthen our story?

Breaking questions into categories can be extremely useful; that way you can focus on what you need to know. For example, take a character who uses humor in intense family situations. Is it just a nervous reaction or is something deeper going in, perhaps a protective measure because of a traumatic family event in the past? In this case, asking pertinent, probing questions about relationships with each family member is a way to delve deeper into your character and understand them better.

Whether you cherry-pick from existing questionnaires or create your own, the questions need to be in-depth. And don’t let your character shy away from answering. If you uncover a huge secret they’re hiding from the world or a lie they’ve been telling themselves for years, even better!

To get you started, I’ve suggested some categories with questions that might be relevant for your character. Feel free to add to it to create your own database of questions.

RELATIONSHIPS

  • Who is the most important person to you in the family? Why?
  • If there are rifts in your family, who are they with and why? 
  • Who is your best friend? What is your relationship like? 
  • Have you ever had a falling out with your best friend? What happened? How did it change the relationship?
  • Are you friends with any of your exes? Why or why not?
  • Do you date a certain “type”? Do you see in your relationships?
  • If your exes were asked for their views on you, what would they say?
  • How do you deal with confrontation? Have you always been like this?
  • If someone met you for the first time, how would they describe you? Do you agree? If not, why not?

INNER-SELF

  • Do care what people think of you? Why or why not?
  • If you had one wish, what would it be?
  • When you meet someone, what is the first thing you notice about them? Second?
  • When you meet someone, are first impressions everything or are you open to changing your mind? Why or why not?
  • What are the secrets about yourself that nobody knows?
  • What do you do at home by yourself?}
  • What makes you emotional? 
  • Do you hide your emotions or allow the world to see them? Why? 
  • What is your biggest regret in life? 
  • What are you most afraid of?
  • If you found $50 in a supermarket carpark and no one saw you, what would you do?

LIFESTYLE

  • Are you obsessed with anything? What is it and why? 
  • What’s your definition of a perfect vacation?
  • Is your house messy or clean? Do you care?
  • If you could have your dream job and/or life what would it be and why?
  • If you aren’t doing your dream job or leading the life you want, why not?
  • Where do you see yourself in one year? Five years? Twenty years? 
  • What kind of learner are you? 

HISTORY

  • If you could change something in your past, what is it and why? 
  • Do you believe examining past experiences is a great way to grow as an individual? Why or why not?
  • How do you feel looking back on your first romantic relationship? What about your last one?
  • Do you look forward or back? Why or why not?
  • What habits or traits have you always possessed? Do you want to change it? Why or why not?

By asking the right questions, you’ll be able to dig deep into your character’s mind and heart you’ll have an array of wonderful, memorable characters your readers will love (or love to hate, depending on what genre you’re writing!). 

What questions do you ask your characters when you need to delve deep?

Alli Sinclair

Resident Writing Coach

Alli is an Australian multi-award winning and bestselling author whose fact-based fiction explores little-known historical events. Alli’s books have been voted into the Top 100 Australian novels of all time and when she’s not writing novels, Alli is working on international film and TV projects as a screenwriter and producer. 
 
Alli hosts the Writers at Sea cruise retreat for writers, presents writing workshops internationally, and volunteers as a role model for Books in Homes. Alli is an experienced manuscript assessor and loves to work with writers to help their manuscripts shine.
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9 Comments
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[…] them care, Jim Dempsey says to ground your characters with all five senses, Alli Sinclair advises asking the right questions with character interviews, Katharine Grubb shares 4 more defense mechanisms for your character, and Janice Hardy reveals an […]

Lois Simenson
7 days ago

Loved this, thank you! There’s always something I haven’t flushed out.

Alli
Alli
7 days ago
Reply to  Lois Simenson

I’m glad it was helpful, Lois! Yes, there’s always some angle with one or more of our characters that takes time to figure out but we get there in the end!

Last edited 7 days ago by Alli
Peg Brantley
8 days ago

Perfect timing! It’s usually easy for me to develop characters using all the usual lists and adding the concept of turning points. I do a stream of consciousness first person exercise and normally it works. But I’m working on a new protag now who has me stumped. This will help get those juices going. Thank you!

Peg -5T3B9063-4x6-web-2_preview.jpeg
Alli
Alli
8 days ago
Reply to  Peg Brantley

Hi Peg! I’m so pleased to hear this helps! Isn’t it interesting how some characters are much easier to figure out than others. Good luck with your new character and story!

Vashti Quiroz-Vega
9 days ago

This is great! Thanks for sharing. Saving and sharing!

Alli
Alli
8 days ago

I’m so glad it was helpful, Vashti! Happy writing!

ANGELA ACKERMAN
Admin
9 days ago

This is a good starting point for getting to know a character – thanks, Alli. I’m thinking too it would be good to think about the character’s role in the story and their relationship with the protagonist to steer some of these questions, too. Depending on the role, a person would want to dig a bit deeper into certain areas.

Alli
Alli
8 days ago

Thank you, Angela. Ah, yes, the relationship with the protagonist is a great way to figure out which questions to ask. Family relationships can always be tricky!