Posted on Nov 18, 2020
Character Questionnaire: 50 Juicy Questions To Ask Your Characters
Author Elizabeth Bowen once said “characters are not created by writers. They pre-exist and have to be found”. That’s solid advice, but there’s one small catch — what do you do if you want to write, but a fully-formed character is yet to fall into your lap?
Don’t be disheartened: there are things you can do to speed up the process of finding them, and a character questionnaire is a great place to start! This fillable PDF lets you type answers directly onto the questionnaire to start your character development journey.
Download the questionnaire now:
Reedsy’s Character Questionnaire
40 questions to help you develop memorable characters.
What is a character questionnaire?
A character questionnaire is one way for authors to get under the skin of their characters. By asking and answering a few probing questions, a writer gets to know their creations better, building a detailed picture of their personality and history which they can use to add depth to their stories.
Rather than focusing on external characteristics like physical appearance and education (as you might do when creating a character profile), a questionnaire gives you the opportunity to dig deeper, and explore what really makes your character tick.
If nosiness was no obstacle, what questions would you ask if you really wanted to get to know someone? Given the choice to grill your favorite celebrity, what would you want to know? Those are exactly the sort of thought-provoking questions to include in a good character questionnaire.
50 questions to get under your character’s skin
We’ve split up our questions into a few different categories, to help you examine different parts of your character's personality. Just put yourself in your character’s shoes, and pick and choose the questions that interest you!
What if’s 🤔
Test your character’s boundaries with these hypothetical scenarios.
- You’re at a bar when the one person you don’t want to see walks in. Who are they? How do you react?
- How would you react if you were catcalled?
- How would you react if you saw a friend who owes you money spending frivolously?
- Your friends are speaking unfairly about a mutual friend. Do you speak up?
- How would you react if you witnessed a victimless crime?
- What would you do if someone brought up your biggest insecurity in front of a crowd of strangers?
- How would you respond to an apology from somebody you still can’t forgive?
- How would you break up with someone?
- If you won the lottery, how would it change your life?
- Would you trade ten years of your life to be richer?
- How about to be more beautiful?
- More intelligent?
Reflecting on the past ⏳
Take a trip down memory lane to explore your character’s backstory in more depth.
- What childhood memory still makes your toes curl?
- What memory makes you swell with pride?
- If you could relive one day of your life without changing anything that happened, which day would you choose
- What about if you could change the course of events?
- Who were you closest to as a child?
- What’s something you quit, that you now regret giving up on?
- What was the best party you ever went to?
Questions to get you thinking about your character’s affairs of the heart; love, friendship, and family.
- Who was the first person to break your heart?
- Who was the last?
- How well would you handle a long-distance relationship?
- How would you feel after a one-night stand?
- Have you ever kept someone in your life who you didn’t get along with — for example, a friend you disliked or argued with? Why did you avoid saying goodbye?
- How would your best friend describe you?
- How would your romantic partner describe you?
- How would your boss describe you?
- How would your parents describe you?
- How would your worst enemy describe you?
Habits and routines ✔️
Learn more about the rhythm of your character’s days, and the ins-and-outs of the more mundane aspects of their life — they can be surprisingly illuminating.
- What do you think about in the shower?
- Do you stay up late or wake up early?
- What do you do if you can’t sleep?
- Who or what do you turn to when you’re upset?
- Are you more of a text person or a phone call person? Why?
- What does your morning routine look like?
The good, the bad, the ugly… 💀
Time to get critical. Use these questions to explore the less-than-lovely aspects of your character. Even the most heroic of protagonists have a couple of skeletons in their closet.
- What’s the worst thing you’ve ever wished on somebody (and who was it)?
- When was the last time you lied? What made you do it?
- Is there somebody you haven’t been able to forgive? What did they do? Do you want to forgive them?
- Can you lie easily?
- Do you handle rejection well?
- Have you ever done something illegal?
- Are you more likely to ask for permission or forgiveness?
- What terrible thing have you done that you never thought you would do?
- What criticism would your worst enemy would make of you, that you secretly agree with?
Just how it sounds — these general questions are real thinkers, and might help you discover quirks you would have otherwise missed.
- If you could erase one movie from existence, what would it be?
- What’s the weirdest job you would be willing to do?
- What’s a job you would never consider, no matter how good the pay?
- How do you feel in large groups versus small ones?
- Who was the last person you obsessively stalked on social media?
- What was the last book you read? Did you like it? Why or why not?
Why use a character questionnaire?
Using a character questionnaire inspires you to think about your characters in new and interesting ways. Rather than simply using your character as a pawn in your plot, a questionnaire encourages you to explore their inner world, and develop a realistic, “fully rounded” character. Answering a few character development questions in the form of a questionnaire is a great way to ‘get to know’ the people you’re writing about.
You get to know more about your character than just their eye colour
Imagine you’re trying to describe your close friend to somebody who has never met them before. You’re probably not going to say “my best friend is a tall, willowy woman, with sea green eyes and curly hair framing her delicate features” (at least, we hope you wouldn’t). You also probably wouldn’t use isolated adjectives like “she’s plucky”. Instead, you’re more likely to talk about them using anecdotes and stories, giving snippets that demonstrate their personality.
That’s because this is the most efficient way of giving an impression of someone’s personality. Your description of your friend is more believable, because you’re giving evidence and examples to back up the picture you’re trying to paint. If you’ve ever done this, you’re using “show, don’t tell” storytelling in real life, without even knowing it!
You can use a similar approach in your character development by using a questionnaire to arm yourself with many anecdotes, memories, and personal history, ready to deploy in your story.
You’ll create character-driven plots
With the psychological profile you’re building, you can make story decisions that are driven by character behaviour, rather than the needs of the plot.
As you write, you can consciously ask yourself at any point, “what would my character do in this situation?”, and let the answer guide your story. By pursuing a character-driven plot, you avoid the trap that befalls many a lazy writer: a character doing something that makes no sense given their personality, just to make the plot work (we’re looking at you, Gossip Girl).
For a deeper dive into creating characters sign up for our free online course:
How to Develop Characters
In 10 days, learn to develop complex characters readers will love.
You get to know your enemy
Another big plus for using a character questionnaire is that it can help you build empathy for your antagonists. Moustache-twirling Disney villains can be fun once in a while, but there’s a reason why series like A Song of Ice and Fire are constantly lauded for their nuanced, fully-realised antagonists. By fleshing out your villains with genuine backstories and believable/human motivations, you’ll make them much more compelling.
It could help you burst through writer’s block
On top of their many uses in the developmental stage, character questionnaires can also be a handy way of tackling writer’s block. If you’re feeling uninspired, using these questions as a prompt can jump-start your creativity — and you might be surprised by what you learn about your character!
How can you use a character questionnaire?
There’s no right or wrong way to use a character questionnaire — the beauty of this kind of character exercise is that you can tailor it to your own needs. But if you are looking for ways to curate and use a questionnaire, here’s one approach we’ve found useful!
Choose a few relevant questions and write your answers
First off, hand select a couple of questions from each section. Pick out the ones that you think are especially relevant to your character, or just ones that pique your interest.
Then, set a timer for fifteen minutes and write, stream-of-consciousness style, from the point of view of the character you’re developing. (Note: if your time is up, but your creative juices are still flowing, keep going! The whole point is to explore new ideas about your character, and if you’re inspired by a question, follow it down the rabbit hole!)
We recommend sticking to one character per writing session, so that you can fully immerse yourself in their mindset. If you want to put a few characters in the hot-seat, maybe dedicate a day to each. Once you’re done throwing out ideas, walk away! Leave it 24 hours, and come back with a fresh mind.
Identify the answers you like, and throw away the rest
When you’re rereading what you wrote, interrogate every answer your character gave. Ask yourself: What worked? What didn’t? Which elements would you like to pursue, or maybe even introduce to your main narrative? Which ideas seem authentic, and which seem more like spitballing? Did your grizzled action hero really give up on a career as a chess Grandmaster, or were you getting carried away? This quick revisit will help you separate the wheat from the chaff, and identify your very best ideas.
Determine what these insights tell you about your character
There’s no “one way” to use your findings from a character questionnaire, and every writer’s process is different. You certainly shouldn’t feel pressure to include everything you come up with in your final story — we don’t need a chapter-long interlude discussing the ins and outs of your main character’s morning routine. Instead, a fair amount of the work you put into character questionnaires will be used in figuring out how your character would react in certain scenarios, or honing character quirks.
Take a look over what you’ve written: what is it showing you about your character? If these answers were written by a real person, what would your impression of them be? Is the image created one of somebody who’s insecure, brave, or obsessive? And does this image align with what you thought you knew about your character? If not, don’t worry! You may have uncovered some interesting nuance or character flaws that can help to enrich your character. For example, if you realize your character’s answers are conflict-averse, you can weave that trait into your existing plot, even if you ignore all the specific examples from your answers.
Think of creative ways to integrate your new insight into your story
If you do come across a particularly exciting character detail or anecdote, there are lots of ways to directly integrate them into your story! You could use flashbacks or dialogue, or even incorporate the episodes you workshopped during your questionnaire into the story itself. If you think one of your scenarios does a great job at conveying your character’s personality, see if you can work it into the main narrative in a natural way.
No matter what, make sure you keep what you wrote (at least, the good bits)! Even if you don’t see an immediate application for your ideas just yet, you never know when it might want to refer back to it while writing.
For more tips on how to write unforgettable characters, check out our free course on developing characters readers will love, or our guide to coming up with interesting character quirks.