Thursday, February 19, 2009

On Writing: Take Your Character To Therapy!

Freud next to his analytic couch

As a supplement to this schmooze blog on Character, I want to share here one of my favorite techniques for working on the Characters in my books.

It's a psychiatric questionnaire that was adapted in a SCBWI Bulletin a few years ago, that I've added some questions to as well.

I find it's a great tool for figuring out the backstory and WHY my characters would act certain ways. For main characters it's been indispensable. And it's been really useful for creating minor characters, too. I really like not figuring out the character name until after I know quite a bit about them - that's why the name and what they look like section is at the bottom.

Also, I want to mention that often my characters won't tell the truth when asked these questions- so I'll write down both what the character would say, and then in parentheses, I'll add what they actually know the truth to be... Why? It's more fun to write it that way, plus it gives me a better take on the character's voice.

So, try it out. Take this Character Therapy Questionnaire for a test spin. And see if it works for you, too.

1 Do you see the world the same way your friends and family do? Do you feel your parents/friends/community understand you?

2. If you could change one thing about yourself or your life, what would it be? What would happen if you did?

3. What’s your home like? Who lives with you? What rules (explicit or unspoken) must you follow?

4. Describe your hometown. How has growing up there shaped you?

5. Who is your best friend? Do you have a significant other? What traits attract you to these people?

6. Do you have any enemies? Why is there friction in these relationships?

7. Who do you admire? Why?

8. What do you fear most?

9. What is your proudest achievement?

10. What is the biggest risk you’ve ever taken? Did it pay off?

11. Do you tend to worry? What do you worry about?

12. Are you shy or outgoing? A leader or a follower?

13. Do you take things seriously or are you a class clown?

14. Do you have a favorite place? Why is it special?

15. Have you ever been singled out for something? How do you feel about it?

16. What’s the most important thing you’ve ever learned? How did you learn it?

17. Are you truthful? If you have ever misled someone – why did you do it? Are you likely to do it again?

18. Do you have a secret? Who might be hurt if your secret were discovered?

Full Name:



Personal Grooming:






By the time I've figured out everything else, answering "Character Arc" is much easier. And once I've figured THAT out, I look to my outline to figure out where those character arc moments might happen... And suddenly, the plot fleshes itself out...

Okay, off to work on my characters!




Unknown said...

Back in the day when I was trying to be a novelist, I used to cast Tarot cards for my characters. This sounds like a much better way to go.

Hayden Thorne said...

I tend to be more of a pantser type. I do an outline, but it's a very rough one at best, and the characters tend to evolve in one way or another as I go. That said, the plot ends up getting tweaked the farther I go, too. :)

Good luck with your own writing!

Anonymous said...

I'm stealing this post, though I've thoroughly (I hope) credited you!

Lee Wind, M.Ed. said...

C.B., Tarot? That sounds like it would lead to a lot of fascinating twists and turns you might not have planned!
Hi Hayden, I tend to do a lot of this kind of stuff in my revision process... it's fascinating how there are as many ways of doing it as authors out there, huh?
And Aerin, I'm glad you liked it!
Namaste to all,