8 Killer Character Questions

By that, I don’t mean your character needs to be a killer. But – what, you writers may ask, is the most important task to tackle while writing?

I’m a firm believer that without a great character, your novel will be…lost. The best plot, the most exciting premise, the most challenging adventure is nothing without a great character.

As humans we connect with others through emotion. In novels, that emotional connection comes from good character development. Here are 8 questions to ask so that you can craft stronger characters.

By the way, later this year I’m opening an online Masterclass on writing the middle grade novel. Stay informed with no commitment!

I’m interested in your Masterclass!

Whose story is this?

You need to know who your protagonist is first and foremost. And you need to know what they want, what they need, their primary flaw, etc. Here are the questions to answer:

  1. What is your character’s external desire?
  2. What does your character really want, but is buried in their subconscious – their internal lack?
  3. What does your character need in order to satisfy that internal lack or need?
  4. What is their greatest flaw, or personal weakness?
  5. What is the worst thing that can happen if your character doesn’t get what they desire, externally?
  6. What is the worst thing that can happen if your character isn’t able to satisfy their internal need?
  7. What is standing in the way of the external desire/goal?
  8. What is standing in the way of the internal lack/need?

And By Example: Harry Potter

  1. Harry Potter’s external desire is to be safe from Voldemort.
  2. His internal lack is for a family (note that before the story starts, he assumes he was abandoned. Abandonment is a huge issue generally and certainly is for Harry.)
  3. To satisfy his need for family, he has to uncover his true past and adopt the family he finds through the wizarding world.
  4. His greatest flaw is that he acts impulsively, out of a sense of aggrievement. 
  5. The worst thing that can happen externally is Voldemort kills him.
  6. The worst thing that can happen to Harry if he doesn’t find his “family” is that he is really, truly alone.
  7. Voldemort is his antagonist.
  8. Harry’s frequent impulsivity threatens his ability to keep his friends close. (He may also have trust issues stemming from his abandonment.)

Most Important Question – #2

Note that the issue of abandonment stems from Harry’s initial ignorance of his past. He doesn’t know that he comes from the wizarding world. He has no idea how he got his scar, or why strange things happen to him, or why he is living in such an abusive situation with a family who is both afraid of him and dislikes him. As you work through these questions, try to find an issue that has scope – like abandonment – and that asks deep psychological questions.

I’ll be addressing this more deeply in my next post.

More To Come

I’m planning a series of posts throughout 2022 with writing exercises like these. If you like this kind of work, keep in touch as sometime later this year I’ll be launching an online Masterclass: Writing the Middle Grade Novel, From the Ground Up. If you want more information (without committing) about this course, let me know here.

I’m interested in your Masterclass!

One Response to “8 Killer Character Questions”

  1. Linda W.

    Great post, Janet! I love the questions. I noted this post for reference. Whenever I have to help authors revise their manuscripts, frequently I’ve noticed the need for asking these questions. So this post is a great reference!