Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Do you Really Know the Characters in your Novel? by Connie Vines

Before a writer starts the first draft of a novel, the writer has the plot-points drafted.  The setting, profession, manner of dress and speech have been established.  The writer knows what the character looks like. 

The writer knows the characters, right?

Maybe.  Or maybe not.

Yes, there are character questionnaires, we’ve all seen them and groaned.  Two- hundred plus questions, who has time for that?

  • Approach it as a brainstorming exercise
  • Understand that your in-depth knowledge of the character will bleed into your writing, even if the vast majority of this information is never written in your manuscript
  • Use it to start building a character - you should already have the broad brushstrokes of your character, including what drives them and their biggest flaw
  • Use all of the information in your novel - most of the answers should be internalized, not spelled out
Basic Character Questions
  1. First name?
  2. Surname?
  3. Middle names?
  4. Nicknames?
Physical / Appearance
  1. Height?
  2. Weight?
  3. Build?
The seven questions listed above are standard. 

I work my characterization backwards.

1.       .1 What is my main character’s profession?

2 This will determine a great deal of his/her physical, mental abilities, and personality traits.

For example:  branches of the military have requirements, moving up in rank require additional skills.
·         A rodeo clowns’ skill set is different from a bronc-rider, or a bull-rider.
·         Where as a spy and an under-cover cop may share some of the same skill set, but the focus and the personality/ training would be more selective.
·         A professional blogger and home-cook vs a food-critic who’s travel-the-world and only dines at 5-star restaurants.

2.       How do they wear their clothes?
3.       What are their feet like? (type of shoes, state of shoes, socks, feet, pristine, dirty, worn, etc)
4.       Race / Ethnicity?
5.       Mannerisms?
6.       Are they in good health?  An athlete will have had injuries.
7.       Do they have any secrets? 
8.       What haunts them?

Personality (this is something that pops into my head during the writing of the 1st draft)
  1. Catchphrase?
  2. Bad habits?
  3. What makes them laugh out loud?
  4. How do they display affection?
  5. How do they want to be seen by others? (this can be a secret)
  6. How do they see themselves?
  7. Strongest character trait?
  8. Weakest character trait?
  9. How do they react to praise?
  10. How do they react to criticism? (this can be a trigger for a villain)
  11. What is their greatest fear?
  12. What will they stand up for? Willing to die for?
  13. Who do they quote? (The Commissioner in the TV show, Blue Bloods quotes Teddy Roosevelt.)

Friends and Family

  1. Is their family big or small? Who does it consist of?
  2. What is their perception of family?
  3. Do they have siblings? Older or younger?
  4. Describe their best friend.
  5. Do they have any pets?
  6. Who are their natural allies?
  7. Who are their surprising allies?

Past and Future

  1. What was your character like as a baby? As a child? (This is something the hero/heroine can wonder about or even ask.)
  2. Did they grow up rich or poor?
  3. Did they grow up nurtured or neglected?
  4. What smells remind them of their childhood?
  5. Has anyone ever saved their life?
  6. Strongest childhood memory?


  1. How do they respond to a threat?
  2. Are they most likely to fight with their fists or their tongue?
  3. What is your character’s kryptonite?
  4. How do they perceive strangers?
  5. What is their choice of weapon? (the home-cook could serve a crispy and dry mac and cheese casserole.)
  6. Where do they go when they’re angry?
  7. Who are their enemies and why?


  1. What is in their fridge:
  2. What is in their purse or wallet?
  3. What is in their pockets?
  4. What is their most treasured possession?


  1. What do they think is the worst thing that can be done to a person?
  2. Did they keep or break their last promise?


  1. What would they do if they won the lottery?
  2. What fairy-tale do they hate? Why?
  3. Do they believe in happy endings?
  4. What would they ask a fortune teller?
  5. If they could have a superpower, what would they choose?

My questionnaire is just a little over 50 questions.  However, the important answers pop into my mind when I’m writing the first draft.  Others are answered when I’m working on a revision.

And as every writer knows, at some point during the writing process, the characters take-over and a great deal of careful plotting gets tossed out the window.

Along with the links to my novels, I’ve included a recipe for a potato-side dish (remember the reference to the food-blogger/home cook?

Lynx                 Brede             Tanayia 

This is a hot casserole for dinner, lunch, or breakfast.  I often make it for a potluck, church social, or divide it into individual containers and freeze and reheat for future meals.

8 ingredient/Gluten Free  

9 X 14-inch casserole dish (bottom coated with oil/butter).
350-degree preheated oven

Potato Casserole

1 small onion, diced
1 bag 30 oz. frozen hash brown potatoes, thawed
1 can cream of chicken soup
½ tsp pepper
1 tsp salt
Dash of garlic powder (optional
1 stick of butter, melted
8 oz sharp cheddar cheese (1/2 of the cheese in the mixture)
1 cup sour cream

·         In a large bowl add ingredients one-by-one, folding each into the mixture with a large spoon or spatula.

·         Pour n the melted butter and then add the cheese and sour cream.

·         Toss into casserole dish, moving the mixture so it is evenly distributed and touches the all sides of the dish.

Add the reminding cheese on top of the casserole.  Since my family loves cheese, I was much more generous with the cheese topping.

 Stop by my website: www.novelsbyconnievines.com

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Happy Reading, 

Connie Vines


  1. Wow! What a great checklist! Lots of food for thought there (yes, pun intended).

  2. Excellent character interview questionnaire, Connie. Thanks for the recipe too.

  3. Lots of food for thought in this post! Thanks, Connie.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.


  5. Thank you for this, Connie. Even though I really thought I knew my characters, I realized I couldn't answer a lot of these questions about them. I expect that might be why I'm struggling. I'm going to put your list to work.


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