Giving your Characters Depth

Coloured ChairImage courtesy of Syder Ross

We all know that to make your book resonate to the reader you need characters that are more than two dimensional, characters that feel like they have a believable past, who have likes and dislikes, ticks and temptations. It’s easy to think we can do all this as we go along, but it’s worth doing a few minutes work in the developmental stages of a book that can carry through into your later writing.

I’ve used a hot-seating in the past, pulled straight from the technique employed by some actors. The actor has questions fired at them which they must answer as the character they are portraying. For a writer this is a good way to spontaneously generate a lot of random idiosyncrasies about their character. It does, however, require a lack of self-consciousness and a few friends who are prepared to ask the questions.

A slightly easier method, though more prescribed, is to use a character questionnaire. There is no reason why you can’t come up with your own, but the following from a Words with Jam article by JD Smith pretty much covers everything. It was developed by JJ Marsh and Sheila Bugler.

Try to answer as your character. Avoid overthinking and do it rapidly, jotting down the first answer that pops into your head; it can often lead to that extra bit of dynamism in your character.

1. Are you typically (insert nationality)?

2. What makes you easy/hard to get along with?

3. Describe your earliest memory.

4. Where do you get your information from? Be specific – TV? Which channel? Gossip? Whose word do you trust?

5. Who or what is the love of your life and why?

6. Who is your hero?

7. Can you be trusted?

9. In what ways are you like your parents?

10. If you were an animal, what would you be?

11. Give an example of one of your rituals.

12. What are you most afraid of and why?

13. What is the last thing you do before you go to sleep?

14. Are you normal?

15. Describe yourself in 5 words.

16. What would you change about your appearance?

17. When was the last time you indulged yourself? How?

18. What prejudices do you have, if any?

19. What makes you laugh?

20. Do you have any scars? Where did they come from?

21. What is your most precious possession?

22. What keeps you awake?

23. Why do you/don’t you have children?

24. Who is your best friend?

25. When did you last lose your temper? Why?

26. Which items do you always carry with you?

27. What is your idea of a perfect evening?

28. What is your greatest regret?

29. Which characteristics do you look for in a friend?

30. Describe your greatest achievement.

31. Where do you call home?

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About Simon Cornish

Always a storyteller, both in words and visually, I have worked as a professional animator, scriptwriter and illustrator for most of my career. I’ve directed commercials, short films and plenty of dubious corporate miscellany. A number of my short films have been shown at festivals and I’ve produced a couple that have won awards. I have also created illustrations for industry magazines and children’s publications. Wanting to explore my writing in more depth I undertook an MA in Professional Writing at Falmouth University, graduating in 2011, and have been working on script and prose writing since.

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