Conversation/Character Starter

Questions to ask someone you’re dating, or someone you’re thinking of placing in a story:

  1. Are you a bit of an insomniac, or do you get sufficient sleep?
  2. Do you have any chronic injuries, and if so, are you proud or embarrassed by them?
  3. If you see someone being bullied, are you more likely to watch, get away, or intervene?
  4. When someone you care about is having a bad day, is your first response more often, “I’m sorry things are so rough right now,” or “That reminds me of the time…”?
  5. Have you ever broken the law, and if so, would you ever break that or another law again?
  6. What is your guilty pleasure and comfort food?
  7. Do you work better in an organized or chaotic environment? With music or silence?
  8. Do you believe people change sometimes, never, or only very slowly?
  9. How old were you at your first sexual experience? Do you think that was too young or too old or just right?
  10. Are you still in contact with any of your immediate family members? Why or why not for each of them?
  11. How long does it take you to respond to a message from someone you know, someone you like, and someone you love?
  12. Do you get along better with senior citizens, toddlers, dogs, cats, or plants?
  13. What is something that so terrifies you, you won’t go anywhere near where you might encounter it? When did you first notice this fear?
  14. To you, is violence inevitable, necessary, abhorrent, optional, or useful?
  15. What do you feel like you still need to learn?
  16. What do you wish everyone you know could know about you?
  17. Do you most optimize your life for material wealth, more/deeper relationships, safety/security, flexibility, fame, obscurity, longevity, mellowness, or excitement?
  18. What sorts of situations take you out of your comfort zone, such that you feel your personality changes?
  19. What sorts of events do you celebrate? Holidays? Birthdays? Anniversaries? Successes?
  20. Where is the best place to hide something?

character inventory

I could of course go on, but you can start with those. I think of each of these as important revealers of character. Imagine a person answering each of those questions differently than you would. Here’s what I came up with:

Tanya stays up late barhopping to escape the boredom she feels at work, and she leads a yoga for seniors class at 7 a.m. at an adult daycare center her great aunt visits, the only person in her family who doesn’t provoke her and whose messages she returns. She finds it fascinating how often the seniors’ experiences mirror hers, but sometimes she fantasizes about suffocating them. Because she is often assumed to be slutty, she wishes everyone knew she was a virgin until age 30. She loves coffee, and she gets sarcastic and abusive when her order is brewed or prepared incorrectly. She has turned down promotions at work, because she doesn’t like having to learn new things. She doesn’t go to office parties. She hordes cupcakes in the back of a file cabinet she knows no one ever opens because she is terrified of being trapped at work with no food. She wears earbuds throughout the day and only listens to music from her youth. Tanya has a scar on her collarbone, and she tries to show it off in the necklines of her tops and dresses. She thinks of it as a badge of honor from a parachuting accident in her mid-teens when she attempted to have sex with a classmate during free fall. She wonders if she could have been arrested for doing that, so she never admits to how she got the scar.

Tanya is certainly someone you could envision in your next story, right? Try it yourself, and let me know what you come up with. And check out last week’s post (How We Disagree) for another way to distinguish your characters and make them more real.

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