What is the person in your story like? Who is your protagonist? Here are six characterization questions to help you reveal your protagonist’s character.
6 Characterization Questions
The best characterization comes not from what you think about your character, but from what your character does — their actions. These characterization questions will give you clues about what kinds of actions your protagonist will take.
1. How does your protagonist plan for the New Year?
Does your protagonist write down a list of New Year’s resolutions to start a new habit on January first? Do they break their new habit on January second? Is your protagonist a person who is organized, a person who prepares and plans and follows through? Or are they continually setting goals they don’t meet?
Does your protagonist have a story due on January 2nd, and they write it the night before? Or do they write it two weeks ago so that they can get a good night’s sleep the day before it is due? Are they a last minute kind of person or a do it early and plan ahead person?
2. How does your protagonist deal with stress?
How does your protagonist deal with stress? Put them in a car on a crowded highway, with no creamer for their coffee, and they are late to meet the president of the local bank for a job interview. What do they do?
Your protagonist is not just the suit they wear or the school they attended; they are their personality when they are stuck in traffic, when someone lies to them, or when they are not invited to the office party.
“Adversity does not build character; it reveals it.”
— James Lane Allen.
Does your protagonist deal with stress by sleeping all day and avoiding the situation, or do they take immediate action and deal with the situation?
3. What quote is framed and hanging on their office wall?
What is important to your protagonist? What would they want to be reminded of while they sit at their desk working? Their favorite quote? Their diploma from high school, or university?
I did a search online for quotes on adversity and perseverance. Here are three quotes I found.
“No matter how bad things are, you can always make things worse.”
― Randy Pausch,
“If the road is easy, you’re likely going the wrong way.”
― Terry Goodkind
“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.”
Think about what is important to your protagonist, and find a quote that would be important to them. It might give you a better idea of who your protagonist is, and what they value.
4. What does their office space, their home, or their car look like?
Imagine your protagonist’s office. Do they share an office? Is their desk covered with papers? Trash on the floor?
Is their home clean and tidy? Are there dishes in the sink? Is there food left on the plates from last weeks spaghetti and meatball dinner?
Do they have a maid? Children? Are they single? Are there empty taco bell wrappers on the floor of their car? Are there sunflower seed shells on the floor because the protagonist eats them to keep from falling asleep when they drive?
5. What kind of car do they drive?
Do they drive a new, off the lot, expensive sports car or a modest standard vehicle? Do they ride the bus or a bicycle? Or maybe they walk to work, or work from home?
How your protagonist travels will show what they value. Do they drive an electric vehicle because they are worried about pollution? Do they want to impress their brother with a new BMW? Do they care what other people think about them?
Maybe they drive a 2007 van with a dent in the left side when they lent the van to their teenager. How did the parent react when their child had an accident in the car?
6. Do they have a dog, a cat, or a fish for a pet?
And the most important question to reveal your protagonist’s character is if they have a pet. A dog? A cat? A fish? Maybe they have six cats, one dog, one hamster, and two birds?
What would a person with a dog be like? Would they take the dog for long runs? Is the dog large? Small? Do they have cats?
The main question is not just that they own the pets, but how the pets are taken care of.
When they take the dog for a walk, do they pick up after the dog when it poops?
There is someone in my neighborhood who does not pick up their dog’s poop. Does that mean the person is inconsiderate? Or maybe they have bad knees and can’t bend over. Or maybe they are on their phone and don’t even know the dog went to the bathroom.
How would the dog owner deal with the stress of a neighbor chasing them down the street with a plastic bag yelling, “Hey! Hey! Pick up your dog’s poop!”?
More Characterization Questions
Would you like more questions to ask your character? You could ask four questions to find out the fundamental things about your protagonist. You could interview your protagonist with thirty-seven questions. Or you could use Proust’s Questionnaire and ask your protagonist Marcel Proust’s thirty-five characterization questions.
And remember, the most important part of characterization isn’t what your protagonist says, but what they do. What actions will they take next?
What other questions can you think of to ask your protagonist that would reveal their character? Let us know in the comments.
Then, please read and comment on someone else’s practice.
I hope you had a wonderful holiday and a year filled with joy and sunshine.
Pamela, and Annie the dog, and Harper, Charlie, Nepeta, JR, Oscar, and Clara the cats, Einstein the hamster, and Nugget and Trooper the birds