On my desk, I added a “thank you” note, which reads: “Thank you for taking the time to sit down and spend time with us. Signed, Your Characters.”
The act may seem silly, but the note actually motivated me to place my butt in the chair and write. Even when I was tired, pregnant, and just wanted to curl on the couch and rest.
In order to create believable characters, we need to know them inside and out: the good, the bad, the ugly, the unspeakable, the terrifying, their most embarrassing moments, and their triumphant pastimes. We need to get to know all the things about them.
And though not everything we know about our characters will appear in the story, these pieces that make up a character’s backstory are important. Because honestly, if our imaginary friends (and enemies) aren’t real to us, they most likely won’t be real to readers either.
I’ve used a lot of questionnaires in the past. At this time I’m using Marcel Proust’s character questionnaire in order to learn more about the two main characters, Alexander Brennan and Tierryn Black, of the second book in the Waking Dream series, “Moondust”. They’re both middle school students. I may teach middle school students, but I’m not completely attuned with their adolescent hopes, fears, dreams, desires, goals, secrets. So, even when I will myself to remember what it was like to be a preteen or a young teenager, those moments seem so foreign to me. Both Alexander and Tierryn are both lucid dreamers. I’ve experienced lucid dreaming on many occasions so if write what you know is true, then I’m doing something right when it comes to that piece of the drafting puzzle. And finally, both characters experienced a lot of growth in the first book titled, “Moonstruck”. I want to make sure that that growth is clear in the second book. Also, for new readers who may not start with book one, I want to include significant events smoothly and in a natural and organic way within the sequel’s plot.
There’s a new antagonist to the series, Mary Katherine (Merricat) Komatsuzaki, (a half Black and half Japanese girl). Since she plays such an important role in this second book, I’ll need to learn more about her too. And of all the questionnaires I’ve seen, the Marcel Proust one seems to suit my needs.
Besides being a priceless tool for fleshing out characters, completing the questionnaire for each character is a great writing exercise that I think will brainstorm scenes, advances in the plot, enticing twists and turns, which should all lead to the story’s climax and resolution.
Marcel Proust Character Questionnaire
- What do you consider your greatest achievement?
- What is your idea of perfect happiness?
- What is your current state of mind?
- What is your favorite occupation?
- What is your most treasured possession?
- What or who is the greatest love of your life?
- What is your favorite journey?
- What is your most marked characteristic?
- When and where were you the happiest?
- What is it that you most dislike?
- What is your greatest fear?
- What is your greatest extravagance?
- Which living person do you most despise?
- What is your greatest regret?
- Which talent would you most like to have?
- Where would you like to live?
- What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
- What is the quality you most like in a man?
- What is the quality you most like in a woman?
- What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
- What is the trait you most deplore in others?
- What do you most value in your friends?
- Who is your favorite hero of fiction?
- Whose are your heroes in real life?
- Which living person do you most admire?
- What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
- On what occasions do you lie?
- Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
- If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
- What are your favorite names?
- How would you like to die?
- If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?
- What is your motto?
I found this questionnaire at writingclasses.com and a Word.doc format can be found here.
What do you think? Is there anything missing from this list that should be included? What other questionnaires do you find useful?