35 Questions To Ask Your Characters From Marcel Proust

Marcel Proust

We’re on a characterization kick this week on The Write Practice. Today, we’re going to continue to delve into the lives of our characters by going through a list of thirty-five questions to ask your characters made famous by the canonical French author, Marcel Proust.

On Monday, Sophie post about how to inhabit your character deeply enough you can feel yourself, at least briefly, become them. Yesterday, Liz talked about how to manage a large cast of characters without overwhelming your reader.

Personally, these posts have come at the perfect time. This week, I’ve been working on a new story with new characters. To aid me in my quest to know my characters better, I began searching for a set of questions to ask my characters, questions that could help me get to the bottom of their identity faster. That’s when I came upon a list of questions known as Proust’s Questionnaire.

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Proust’s Questionnaire

In the late nineteenth century, lists of questions were a popular diversion designed to discover new things about old friends. In that way, they’re similar to the blogging “awards” that continuously circle the blogosphere. Apparently, when Marcel Proust was 14 years old, his friend Antoinette asked him this list of questions.

In 2003, the album upon which Proust wrote his answers to the questionnaire auctioned for €102,000.

While these questions were originally intended for personal use, I found them to be helpful questions to ask my characters as a way to understand them more deeply.

Here is Proust’s Questionnaire:

  1. What is your idea of perfect happiness?
  2. What is your greatest fear?
  3. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
  4. What is the trait you most deplore in others?
  5. Which living person do you most admire?
  6. What is your greatest extravagance?
  7. What is your current state of mind?
  8. What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
  9. On what occasion do you lie?
  10. What do you most dislike about your appearance?
  11. Which living person do you most despise?
  12. What is the quality you most like in a man?
  13. What is the quality you most like in a woman?
  14. Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
  15. What or who is the greatest love of your life?
  16. When and where were you happiest?
  17. Which talent would you most like to have?
  18. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
  19. What do you consider your greatest achievement?
  20. If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?
  21. Where would you most like to live?
  22. What is your most treasured possession?
  23. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
  24. What is your favorite occupation?
  25. What is your most marked characteristic?
  26. What do you most value in your friends?
  27. Who are your favorite writers?
  28. Who is your hero of fiction?
  29. Which historical figure do you most identify with?
  30. Who are your heroes in real life?
  31. What are your favorite names?
  32. What is it that you most dislike?
  33. What is your greatest regret?
  34. How would you like to die?
  35. What is your motto?

Which questions do you ask your characters to get to know them better?

PRACTICE

Ask one of your characters the thirty-five questions from Proust’s Questionnaire. Then, post his or her responses in the comments section.

Enjoy your chat!

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About Joe Bunting

Joe Bunting is a writer and entrepreneur. He is the author of the #1 Amazon Bestseller Let's Write a Short Story! and the co-founder of Story Cartel. You can follow him on Twitter (@joebunting).

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