6 Revealing Characterization Questions to Get to Know Your Protagonist

by Pamela Fernuik | 9 comments

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 Revealing Characterization Questions to Get to Know Your Protagonist

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, The Last Lecture

“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.”

― Confucius

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.

PRACTICE

Choose one or more of the six questions and ask them of the protagonist — or the antagonist — in your work in progress. Write for fifteen minutes and place your practice here 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.

xo
Pamela, and Annie the dog, and Harper, Charlie, Nepeta, JR, Oscar, and Clara the cats, Einstein the hamster, and Nugget and Trooper the birds

 | Website

Pamela writes stories about art and creativity to help you become the artist you were meant to be. She would love to meet you at www.ipaintiwrite.com.

9 Comments

  1. Azure Darkness Yugi

    My character doesn’t plan for anything and likes to wing it. She tends to keep her room messy. Her mother always have to tell her to clean her room. But She doesn’t listen to her mom. Only to her sister. Under stressful situations will get very angry and do reckless things.

    Reply
    • Vidhi Patel

      Wow. That sounds so much like me. Except I drown my anger out instead of doing reckless things and don’t have a sister. And I listen to my mother.

  2. Sonya Ramsey

    Happy New Year everyone, I am going to take on questions #3. My bedroom/office is my sanctuary. A room that is very organized, my desk is facing a wall, and on this wall what ever particular article, book, magazine, or even the BIBLE quotes that I find help guide me, or give me wisdom, motivation, inspiration I post them on this wall. The wall looks like I am advertising for the sticky note companies, it is a great wall.

    Reply
  3. Siska

    Happy New Year everyone. I’m going with questions no 2. My character can’t sleep nor eat when she is stressed. She would turn the music really loud or binge watch old movies. She is very neat but doesn’t plan ahead.

    Reply
  4. Dave Ames

    Hanging on my office wall: “Two things you cannot change, the past and the future. So make the best of today.” I glance at this whenever I’m stressed. Bad news from the doctor, I’m afraid. The stuff that saved my life could end up costing me everything. (glace at the sign) But, that is for another day. I do not have to stress those around me so no tears today, no yelling, no fighting, no hiding. For today, I am alive and that is enough. Time to write, all the time in the world.

    Reply
  5. Dave Ames

    Happy New Year! I found something for character development that you might find useful. There are role-playing websites. To successfully develop a role-playing character one must know the person you are creating extremely well. To do that, the RP folks use character development sheets. Some of the questions they use are appropriate for both protagonists and antagonists. I am a big fan of not re-inventing the wheel. So I use a derivative of my own design to ask penetrating questions about my characters. Keep writing!

    Reply
  6. Yumna Mahmood

    Hello.Happy 2018. I am Yumna and here is my practice.
    my protagonist is an early to do person and plans ahead. she was a house-wife but now is a widow and teaches in a montessori. She immediately takes action but have a good control over her emotions and deals with the situation spiritually.Her favorite quotation is SURAH ASR. She is a single person now as stated above. She doesn’t care what model she is driving she loves it because her husband taught her driving in it. She is owner of a cat named Mano and have missed her pair in an accident.

    Reply
  7. Irene Joseph

    I have interviewed my protagonist Ally – How do you plan for New Year? ‘I like it to be just my partner and myself. I don’t like having anyone else around and the includes my brat of a daughter Laila – she gets sent to her father’s (that means he can’t do anything on new years – good!) I will start the evening with a romantic candlelit supper for two and champagne to see the new year in. He’s happy to do this.’ What if your daughter stayed home. ‘That very rarely happens thank god. Although one year, her father went away (deliberately I reckon) so we had no choice but to have her with us. I couldn’t even palm her off to her friends. The little brat spoilt the whole evening, she complained about the food – even though i had offered to get her a pizza. But she’d insisted that she loved the look of what we were having, so joined us. She moaned the whole way through to the point where I was beginning to get really angry inside and wanted to slap her. But I couldn’t not in front of my partner. Then she’d complained about the fact I’d only bought two desserts so I sacrificed mine for her. She ate the whole lot and then said it was disgusting. We couldn’t watch we wanted because we had to watch what she wanted. In the end we had a blazing row and my partner stormed off down the pub to see the new year in with his mates because he was fed up with the screaming and shouting. Laila totally spoilt our new year and the little cow didn’t even apologise, sloping off to bed and leaving me all in my own to see in New Years. It made me sick how she drove my partner out away from me.’

    Reply
  8. Twbookmiss

    My protagonist is a 31 cop in Stillwater, Mn in 1930. He’s married for two years and his wife is resisting having children. With the MOB hanging around and cops and gangs in shoot outs she doesn’t want to be a single mom. Our hero wants to be a good cop no association with dirty cops but suspects his partner maybe on the take. No proof just that he hangs around in the bars and dance halls where the MOB does
    Our hero likes cars but can only afford and old one he has to fix to run. They live in a converted house on the top floor
    He likes to read. He likes to hang out with other cops
    No pets, but loves kids and spends time with his siblings and their kids at Moms on Sunday for dinner. Goes to church with family if he’s not on duty upholds the law and hard or criminals. He knows there are people struggling so he’ll give a helping hand or points in the right direction. Theft gets a heavy hand from him

    Reply

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