Attaching the Flesh: A Character Questionnaire

Attaching the Flesh: Character Questionnaire

Characters easily make or break a story. It’s not about having a “good” or “bad” character; rather, it’s a difference of dimensions. To give your characters that third dimension of presence requires adding layers to who they are—patching sinews of flesh onto their waiting bones.

Okay, that’s a bit morbid. The point is that it’s crucial that you take time to develop your characters. This questionnaire will help you start thinking about your character in a deeper, fleshier way.

It’s 50 questions long (with bonus and sub-questions to boot), so I won’t be saying anything extra after the last question’s been asked. Hop past the break to start the survey.

A Quick Disclaimer

While this questionnaire will walk you through creating highly specific descriptions of your character’s appearance, beliefs, background, and personality, the idea is not to then include all these details in your story. Rich details such as these can be powerful, but must be applied carefully and sparingly.

The answers to these questions are resources—things to think about with your character which can be included or disregarded as you write. The goal of this questionnaire is not to show you what details should be included when describing characters in your writing. Rather, the goal is to strengthen your sense of who the character is so a greater depth can naturally bleed through when you write.

Thinking through your character with this level of detail can be useful, but none of these questions make or break the character. Your answers are fabric in the character’s patchwork. Don’t get hung up on any one question; skip ahead if it helps you. These questions are meant to stimulate creative thinking about your character. Approach the exercise in that way.

Now, on to the main event.

The Fleshy Character Questionnaire

Physical/Aesthetic Characteristics

1. What color is your character’s hair? 

NOT red, blonde, brunette, black. Be specific (e.g., “russet,” “strawberry blonde,” “raven black,” “the color of a caramel macchiato”).

2. What color are your character’s eyes?

NOT blue, green, hazel, brown. Be specific (e.g., “chocolate brown,” “silver-blue,” “dark green with flecks of golden-brown”).

3. What color is your character’s skin?

NOT white, black, tan. Be specific (e.g., “latte-with-extra-soy,” “pale as ivory,” “the color of golden-glazed bread fresh out of the oven”).

4. What special aesthetic characteristics does your character have?

Does your character have notable scars? Freckles? A small nose? Big feet?

5. Does your character have any piercings? Tattoos?

Give details: What do the tattoos look like? Why did they get them? If they lack these extra decorations, why?

6. What’s the sexiest physical characteristic of your character?

Everyone’s sexy in their own special way. Is your character tall? Broad-shouldered? With a well-proportioned face? Wielding thick lips? What feature is most likely to attract people to them?

7. What’s the ugliest physical characteristic of your character?

Everyone’s ugly in their own special way. What physical characteristics are unappealing about your character? Do they have a weight problem? Big ears? A large forehead? An obtrusively visible neck-mole?

BONUS: What element of their appearance is your character most insecure about?

8. What does your character wear?

Describe a typical outfit your character may wear, including fine details such as color, style, brand, and/or fabric.

BONUS: Why does your character like wearing that outfit?

BONUS: Repeat question 8 to show different clothing/outfit types (e.g., casual, formal, or favorite outfits).

Expressions of Emotion

9. When your character smiles, what does their smile look like?

Do they show teeth? Is it broad? Do they dimple? Do they prefer to smirk?

10. What does your character’s laugh sound like?

High-pitched? Low-pitched? Nasal? Guttural?

BONUS: What sort of things would make your character laugh?

11. What is your character’s normal style of speech?

Do they speak quickly or slowly? Are they quiet or loud? Monotone or expressive?

BONUS: What are some memorable things your character has said that showcase their unique voice?

12. How does your character express/handle anger?

Is your character likely to yell? Become physically violent? Retreat? Become somber?

13. Does your character cry?

How often? Just when they’re alone, or in the company of others? With intensity or with quiet tears?

BONUS: What sorts of things would make them cry?

14. How easy is it for other people to read your character’s emotions?

Can the character’s friends easily read every emotion on their face? Or are they a sealed-and-locked book?

Character Beliefs

15. Is your character religious?

If so, what faith and to what level of devotion.

16. How does your character view those of other faiths?

Are they tolerant or rigid? Do they condemn or judge others for their differing beliefs? Do they feel judged themselves?

17. What are your character’s core values?

What, above all else, does your character feel must be conserved in the world? Family? Freedom? Beauty? Connection? Kindness? Hope?

18. How willing is your character to fight for those values?

Are they held only as aesthetic values or is your character willing to fight for them? How committed are they to their beliefs?

Character Likes and Dislikes

19. What is your character’s favorite food?

Not Indian food, pizza, burritos. Be specific (e.g., “chicken tikka masala,” “pineapple pizza with extra cheese,” “freshly baked french bread topped with herb-infused cheese”).

20. What is your character’s favorite color?

Not green, blue, pink. Be specific (e.g., “pastel pink,” “teal,” “the color of mist on the mountain right after a storm”).

21. What are your character’s sleeping preferences?

Are they an early bird or a night owl? A heavy sleeper or a light sleeper? Do they sleep short hours or long? Can they sleep easily or are they an insomniac?

BONUS: What position does your character typically sleep in?

22. What is your character’s sexual identity?

What gender/sexuality identity do they declare? Does this differ from their internal experience? Where might they fall on the Kinsey scale?

23. What are your character’s sexual preferences?

Are they sexually conservative or liberal? How comfortable must they be with a person to have sex with them? What meaning does sex have for them? What type of play do they enjoy during sex?

BONUS: What sexual experiences or choices does your character feel especially good or bad about?

24. What type of music does your character like?

Feel free to include both genre types and specific song examples.

BONUS: Does your character have a song that is “their song”?

Character History

25. What is your character’s birthday?

Be specific (month, day, year). If you’re a genre writer, this is a good opportunity to think over your world’s calendar.

BONUS: Does their astrological sign seem to fit them?

26. What family structure did your character have growing up?

Were they an only child? Adopted? Raised by a single parent? Part of a nuclear family?

27. How well did your character get along with their family?

Are the relationships strained? Do they have a sense of belonging there?

28. What is the worst thing your character has ever done?

This should be according to your character’s beliefs. What are they most ashamed of from the past? Why did that deed stick with them?

29. What is the best thing your character has ever done?

What are they most proud of from their past? Why did that deed stick with them?

30. What is the most significant romantic encounter of your character’s past?

Who broke their heart? Whose heart did they break? Or are they as of yet inexperienced with love?

31. Has your character ever been in love?

Is that good thing or a bad thing?

32. Has your character ever been in lust?

Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

33. What is your character’s level of sexual experience?

Are they a virgin? A sexual adventurer?

34. What is your character’s most embarrassing moment?

Tell the full story.

Character Introspection

35. What is your character’s biggest goal in life?

Everyone has a narrative that structures their life. What objectives is your character moving toward? If they lack a strong objective, how does that impact their behavior and outlook?

36. What does your character believe is their greatest virtue?

Do others agree or disagree?

37. What does your character believe is their greatest vice?

Do others agree or disagree?

38. What motivates your character most?

Are they driven by sex, money, connection, fame, pride, respect? Are they honest with themselves and others about these motives?

39. Is your character objective-oriented?

If so, what are some goals they have accomplished in the past?

40. Would your character rather be a great person or a good person?

Sometimes in life we have to choose; which of these is more important to them?

41. Would your character rather be hated for being who they are or loved for pretending to be someone else?

Sometimes in life we have to choose; which of these is more important to them?

42. Is your character an introvert, extrovert, or ambivert?

Consider introversion and extroversion as a gradient rather than a multiple-choice question. How introverted or extroverted are they, and when do these characteristics manifest?

43. Is your character creatively expressive?

If so, how do they express that creativity? How much of their sense of identity is tied to that creative expression?

44. What’s your character’s disorder?

Manic-depressive? Obsessive-compulsive? Attention-deficit? Anxiety? Narcissism? We’re all crazy. What’s their crazy’s name?

45. What is your character’s standard emotional state?

How happy or sad are they normally? What is their go-to emotion when things get rough?

46. Is your character materialistic?

What experiences or beliefs are linked to this?

BONUS: What are some of your character’s prized possessions?

47. What is your character’s major learning style?

Are they auditory, visual, kinesthetic, or some combination?

48. What question isn’t on this questionnaire that your character is just burning to answer?

What question would really allow them to talk about what they feel is important in their life, outlook, and experience?

49. I am a _________. How would your character complete that sentence?

Surgeon, dancer, mother, Christian, socialist, activist, Canadian, train-wreck. What is the primary element of your character’s self-perceived identity?

50. Life is an act of _________ing. What verb would your character use to complete that sentence?

Loving, struggling, dying, creating, dancing, exploring. What does life boil down to? What metaphoric action is most appropriate?

Feel free to suggest questions to add to this questionnaire in the comments.

Write on,