Good character development questions and simple questionnaires help to prompt decisions about who your characters are (or where they’re off to next). Develop deeper arcs with these 100 prompts organized by category and focus:
Build characters’ arcs by asking
- Goal, motivation and conflict questions
- Questions on backstory and formative experiences
- Questions about fears, aversions and triggers
- Relationships and attachment style questions
- Questions about frustrations and disappointments
- Action and reaction questions
- What personality types characters fit
- Questions about best- and worst-case scenarios
- Physical description questions
- Belief, idea and worldview questions
Use the links above to jump to an aspect of characters you want to brainstorm now or keep reading.
Goal, motivation and conflict questions
Goal, motivation and conflict, as our full guide to character creation explains, are three crucial pillars – not just of characters, but of stories in general.
GMC is what your characters want, need or crave, why this desire keeps them up at night, and the tussles pursuing these desires may lead to.
Here are some questions to ask about goals, motivations and conflicts with development – how your characters grows or changes – in mind:
GMC character development questions
- What is your character’s greatest goal or desire at the start of your story? What might they learn that surprises them about this desire, by the end?
- Where does your character’s greatest desire stem from?
- Who (if anyone) does your character attaining their greatest desire depend on at the start of your story (besides themselves)? Does this figure become more or less important?
- Why is attaining their goal non-negotiable (what is at stake if they fail?)
- When in your story will your character’s goals first bring conflict? How might this conflict make them reassess their goals?
- What is a secondary, smaller goal your character may have? Is there something smaller they want that shows their personality? What new secondary goals may appear as the story grows due to the starting scenario?
- Why does your character nearly give up on a goal they care about at one point in the story?
- What motivates your character to keep pursuing their greatest goals when the going gets tough? Will these motivating factors change?
- Who is the biggest obstacle to your character fulfilling their goals at the start of your story? Will the person filling this role change?
- Where (and when) will your character’s motivation be strongest, versus where will it be pushed closest to breaking point?
Backstory and formative experiences (even if you don’t include them in the story itself) help to explain why people (re)act the way they do. Keep reading for character background questions.
GET YOUR FREE GUIDE TO SCENE STRUCTURE
Besides developed characters, a great story needs compelling scenes. Get a free guide on how to make every scene count.Learn more
Questions on backstory and formative experiences
Characters, like flesh and blood people, have histories – backstories that drive their actions and choices. These personal, private histories influence our psychology. They influence our views and values, too.
For example, a character raised in a big family might react particularly negatively to being silenced in a meeting. Why? Because they have a history of having to fight to be heard.
Here are questions to explore your characters’ backstory and formative experiences (and how these fuel character development):
Character backstory questionnaire
- What was the biggest catastrophe for your character growing up? Will they feel the same about this experience at the end of the story as at the start?
- Who was the most important person in your character’s formative years, and why? Does this relationship change over the course of the story? If yes, why?
- What’s something your character did once and will never do again? Do their feelings about this change? If yes, what changes them?
- What is your character’s happiest memory, and why? Do they realize anything about this memory in the course of your story that changes how they feel about it?
- What triggers your character or makes them overreact or show avoidance behavior due to past experiences? Does this reactive behavior change as the story progresses, and in what way?
- How did the character’s first romantic relationship shape them? Is there any encounter in the story that makes them recall this relationship or see it in a new light?
- What’s your character’s most embarrassing memory? Do they carry this experience with them still? Does anything in the story act as catharsis for it, helping them to leave it behind?
- What would the adult version of your character tell the kid them if they could go back in time?
- Who caused your character the greatest pain in their past, and why? Do their feelings towards this person shift over the story’s course?
- Who encouraged or supported your character most in the past? Are they still around during the story? How has their role or the relationship changed, if at all?
Questions about fears, aversions and triggers
Fear is a powerful character motivator and agent of change (or of things staying the same).
Pitting your characters against their fears is useful for character development for multiple reasons:
- You create rising and falling action and suspense when characters have to confront ‘worst-case scenarios’. For example: A secret crush falling for someone else; a dangerous villain acquiring the magical object the hero needs
- You show your reader how a character reacts in crisis situations. The reader witnesses what a character gains or loses through a trial by fire, and sees their qualities (problem-solving, bravery, anxiety, etc.) that emerge through action
Character fears questionnaire
A brief character development questionnaire about fear as a change factor:
- What does your character fear most in the world? Will it come to pass in your story’s course?
- Who would your character turn to for support first when their worst fear came to pass, and why? Will this choice of person change over your story’s course?
- What is a new fear your character might hold by the climax or closing chapters of your story?
- What fears will be stripped away or eased as your character progresses closer towards their goals?
- What does your character have an inexplicable aversion to? Do they find an explanation for this aversion (such as a repressed memory) as your story unfolds?
- What’s the most triggering thing another person can say/do to your character? Does this trigger happen over the story’s unfolding? How might your character react?
- What fears once held may seem irrelevant or trifling to your character after the journey they take in your story?
- How does your character typically react when faced with something they fear? Why do they have this coping mechanism, and will it change as they progress (if so, how?)?
- Which fears coming to pass will bring out your character’s inner strengths in your story, and which their inner weaknesses?
- What people or situations does your character’s fear cause them to avoid? Does this avoidance ease or intensify as the story progresses?
Brainstorm characters in detail
Outline your characters’ goals, fears, motivations and more in easy, step-by-step novel outlining tools.START NOW
Strengths and fears as well as backstory may deeply impact our relationships, attachment styles (e.g. dependent vs independent), and more. Keep reading about questions to develop how characters relate to others.
Relationships and attachment style questions
Relationships and what psychology calls ‘attachment style’ (for example, whether we approach significant partners with confidence or needing reassurance) are affected by many factors. Factors such as:
- Backstory (for example, models of behavior learned from parents)
- Extroversion versus introversion
- Degree of self-awareness, empathy or other-awareness
- Personality traits such as being closed or open, analytical or emotional
The above, of course, reduces these things to binaries (such as logic vs emotion). Most people fall somewhere on a spectrum and these traits may move and shift over the course of a life (or a relationship).
Character development questions to explore and develop your characters’ relationships (and how they approach them):
Questions to develop characters’ relationships
Will there sparks or sputtering, failure to ignite? Ask:
- What type of person is your character most likely to be drawn to? Are they artistic? Pragmatic? Flighty? Dependable? Cheerful? Mopey? Why is your character attracted to the type(s) they are, and does this change over your story?
- What Myers-Briggs type is your character? Personality categorizing frameworks such as the ’16 Personalities’ (which divide people into Analysts, Diplomats, Sentinels and Explorers) are useful for giving characters different types. Does one aspect of their character become more pronounced or change?
- What are five things your character considers the hallmarks of a great relationship (no wrong answers)? Do any of these answers change as your story progresses (why?)
- Is your character drawn more to introverts or extroverts, ambiverts, or a mixture? Will this preference change as the story proceeds?
- What will your character never entertain in a potential partner? Does a relationship in the story make them reassess any stance on red flags?
- What’s the longest relationship your character ever had? What ended it (or is it still going?) What could end it?
- What’s the best and worst relationship advice your character ever received? Did they follow the advice? Do they break it at any point in the story?
- Which couple is ‘relationship goals’ to your character, and why? Does this perception change as the story proceeds?
- What is the way for a potential partner to win over your character? How do these needs/desires change over your story’s course, if at all?
- What are romantic partners’ common goals and desires in your story? How do these goals and wishes develop (or diverge) as your story progresses?
Keep reading for questions to develop characters’ missed opportunities and regrets, typical actions and reactions, and more.
Questions about frustrations and disappointments
Frustrations, disappointments, regrets – all relatable parts of the human condition. Read questions to inspire thinking about your characters’ closed doors and missed opportunities:
Questions to develop characters’ regrets
- What is your character’s biggest regret of all time? Do they get a do-over at any point in your story (or something like one)?
- Who disappointed your character most in their past? What did they take away from this experience? How may it drive them to change, if at all?
- How does your character typically respond to disappointment? Does it light a fire under their ass to try harder, or do they turtle and hide away? Will their typical way of responding change?
- If your character could turn back time, what would they never have done?
- Who would regret meeting your character, and why? Who will they meet in the course of your story who is just not feeling them?
- What frustrated your character most in the past week, month, and year? How will any of these frustrations shape your character’s choices in the course of your story?
- What will your character discover to be the most overhyped or overrated thing? How might seeing behind the curtain change their point of view?
- How will your character’s regrets shape or affect their future actions or decisions?
- If your character could warn anyone based on mistakes they’ve made, what would that warning be?
- How does your character typically react when frustration is too much to handle? Will their coping mechanisms or strategies change over the story’s course?
Speaking of typical actions and reactions, read on for questions to develop habitual action and reaction and create cohesion in how characters typically respond to situations.
Action and reaction questions
Character development questions about causation and reaction will help you think about habits, patterns and making characters’ conduct seem almost inevitable (when it is).
Questions to build characters’ habits, actions and reactions
- How does your character typically react to conflict or tension? Does this pattern change as they grow over their arc, or remain unchanged? Why?
- What is the surest way to provoke your character to fly into a rage? When in your story might the reader see them at their angriest?
- Out of all the characters in your ensemble, whose actions most often tend to annoy this character? Why?
- What is a bad habit your character has, and how do others react to it? Does your character overcome this habit, or is there a time in your story it’s particularly bad?
- Who would your character consult first if they had to make a tough decision? Does this trusted confidant change over your story’s course?
- When your character needs cheering up, what’s their go-to comfort? Does there come a point in the story when this go-to no longer works?
- Is your character addicted to anything at any point in the story? What will it take to help them kick the habit?
- What are habits your character dislikes in others? Who will they meet who has these habits and how will they test them?
- What are your character’s daily rituals and routines? How do events in the story shift these routines (and do they react to these disruptions)?
- What are your character’s priorities at the start of your story vs at the end?
Keep reading for questions to build characters’ personalities, physical changes and how their world views develop or shift.
What personality types characters fit
There are many different models for understanding personality, the traits and tendencies that form an individua persona.
Read prompts to explore a character’s personality (and how it may change):
Personality development questions
- Of the four temperaments – sanguine, choleric, melancholic and phlegmatic – which one or two are dominant? Does this mix of tendencies change due your characters’ experiences?
- Of the sixteen personality types, which type is your character at the story’s start? Does one or more of these characteristics (e.g. thinking, judging, introversion, extroversion) change as the story unfolds?
- What is a new ability or capability your character acquires? How do others in their close circle (friends, family) react to this change?
- Is your character introverted, extroverted or an ambivert (i.e. both, depending on the situation)? What situations over the course of the story will make one or the other tendency stronger?
- What personality types does your character usually connect with easiest? Think of easygoing Pooh and anxious Piglet in the Winnie the Pooh books, a case of opposites attract.
- What aspect of your character’s personality will (or could) get them into the most trouble?
- What aspect of your character’s personality do others often admire? Or do they gain an admirable trait due to the story’s events (if so, what?)
- What is your character’s approach to work/life balance? Do they tend to slack off or overwork to the point of burnout (and does this tendency change)?
- How would other characters describe them in three words? Do the three words change over the course of the story?
- What brings your character the most joy, and what brings the most sadness?
Read on for questions about best- and worst-case scenarios and more.
Questions about best- and worst-case scenarios
Build an idea of the fringe or limit-case scenarios that drive your character’s choices, actions and reactions.
Limit-case character building questions
- What is the worst thing that could happen to your character in their opinion? Does their opinion change as the story proceeds?
- What is the best thing that could happen to your character in their opinion? Does this opinion change, and if so, why?
- What is the worst thing a friend or lover can say? Does someone say this thing to your character? How will this alter the connection?
- What is the best thing a friend or lover could say to your character? What is music to their ears, and how would it affect their attitude to the other person?
- What circumstance would make them give up on their greatest goal? How will they react if this comes to pass?
- What is the best way a secondary character could support your character towards their goals? How do they react when someone tries to help them the wrong way?
- In the best-case scenario, what might your character’s life look like five years after the start of your story? What’s changed?
- In the worst-case scenario, what might your character’s life look like in five years’ time?
- How optimistic vs pessimistic is your character when confronted with a best-case scenario?
- Is the glass half-full or half-empty when your character meets a worst-case scenario?
Physical description questions
Physical descriptions require more than eye color. Think about all the ways your characters bodies, their mobility, their appearance, and other aspects could change due to events in your story.
Try ten prompts to think deeper about the way your characters look:
Questions to develop physicality
- Where is the center of your character’s movement? For example do they move from the waist with upright posture, or from the shoulders with a stoop? How does their posture change, if at all (and why)?
- Does your character gain or lose weight in your story in the wake of an event? How do they feel about the change (or others react to it?)
- Does your character’s style or their clothing preferences change over the course of the story? For example, an emo teen becoming a preppy adult (or vice versa). What event or emotion prompts the change?
- Does your character gain or lose physical ability over the course of your story? How do they react to this change?
- What are your character’s physical mannerisms, tics or quirks? Is there something they tend to do when happy, excited, nervous? Does this become more or less pronounced?
- Does your character’s voice change over the course of the story? For example, the way Austin Butler’s voice changed due to training to play Elvis.
- Does your character sustain any injuries during your story? How does this impact them?
- If there was one thing about your character’s appearance they could change, what would it be? Do they develop some way of compensating for this insecurity? (for example a teen who’s embarrassed of their braces hiding their mouth when they smile).
- What do others your character meets find most attractive about them physically? Do these reactions change how they perceive themselves (positively or negatively)?
- If your character went on The Voice, what would judges be surprised to see when they turned their chair? What does your character’s voice not tell your reader about them?
Belief, idea and worldview questions
What your characters believe, their ideas about politics, religion, identity or any other subject, may change with their experiences over your story’s course.
Here are questions to develop your character’s worldview:
Questions to build characters’ views and ideologies
- Is there an irrational belief or bias your character holds due to past experience? Does any event in your story test or rock this belief?
- Is your character spiritual or religious? Is this constant throughout the story or discovered/lost as events unfold?
- What political party or system would your character vote for? Does their allegiance change due to the events of your story?
- Is there a falsehood your character believes to be true due to deception or naivety that is disproved? How does your character react?
- What are the differences between what your character is taught to believe, versus what they discover to be true?
- What is your character’s most controversial opinion? Who might this bring them into conflict with, and why?
- What is a blind spot in your character’s education? How are they ill-equipped for the road ahead?
- Are your character’s views considered conservative, moderate or liberal? Do their leanings change as they age?
- In your character’s society or religion, what reigning or orthodox view do they struggle with the most? How does this struggle change the way they engage, if at all?
- What is your character always ready to argue over? How open or closed are they to having their views challenged, and does this change?
Which of the questions above are most helpful to you? What would you add? Tell us in the comments below.
Get prompts and tools to brainstorm characters and build an outline automatically as you go that you can download with links back to edit.