05 Apr

20 Questions to Create a Character

Posted in Character, Creativity, DIY MFA, Writing, Writing Exercises

Remember that game 20 Questions, where you had to guess what the person was thinking of only by asking yes/no questions?  This exercise uses a similar technique to help you develop a new character or get to know an existing character better.

There are two ways you can use 20 Questions to create or develop a character.

Option A: Take a character you’ve been working with, perhaps one from your current work-in-progress (WIP).  Answer these twenty questions as quickly as possible about your character.  Then write a short scene with that character, using this new-found knowledge.

Option B: (my personal favorite) Use a coin-toss to select one option from each pair.  That’s your character.  Now write.

The 20 Questions are:

  1. Male / Female
  2. Old soul / Young at heart
  3. Left brain / Right brain
  4. Glass half-empty / Glass half-full
  5. City / Country
  6. Big spender / Penny pincher
  7. Loves water / Can’t swim
  8. Glasses / Tattoo
  9. Dogs / Cats
  10. Hybrid car / SUV
  11. Bites nails / Always manicured
  12. Chocolate syrup / Hot sauce
  13. Coffee / Tea
  14. Overgrown garden / Plastic plants
  15. Always tells the truth / Lies when necessary
  16. Organic food / Fast food
  17. Straight hair / Curly hair
  18. Soft-spoken / Loudmouth
  19. PBS / Reality TV
  20. Motto: “Do or die” / “Look before you leap”

This exercise is based on an exercise from the Write Brain Workbook by Bonnie Neubauer.

Homework: Use this technique for one of your existing characters or create a new one.  Now write a short scene with that character, where at least three of these details are revealed.  This can be something completely new or an extension of a piece you’re already writing.


Comments on this post

  1. J.C. Martin says:

    I have been advised to try this out when I had trouble with a two-dimensional MC. It does work!

    1. Bekah Snow says:

      WHOOO! That's a great game to try

      1. StaceyUK says:

        This is one of the best exercises I've found for creating characters. Fun to to while giving you real insight and much less laborious than other character profiles. My response is here.

        Thank you for sharing. I will be using it in the future.

        1. Gabriela Pereira says:

          Glad you guys liked this exercise. I based it on one from the Write Brain Workbook, but I changed most of the questions and added the element of chance which often makes for more interesting characters because you have to deal with contradictions.

          Like how do you reconcile a character who can't swim but has the motto "do or die"? Contradictions like that are what make characters human. And we are all a mish-mosh of contradictions, after all.

          1. Najela says:

            Awesome. I'm going to have to try this out.

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