Questions to Ask Your Characters

Hey Popculture gang!

In the midst of my home-state Ohio book tour, I recently returned from the Central Ohio Fiction Writers conference in Columbus. While there I heard an incredible keynote from charming, funny, eloquent and all around class act Roxanne St. Claire, was hosted splendidly by J.C. Wilder and where I signed copies of The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker.

I also taught a workshop that merged my two great loves: theatre, and writing books. I'm an actress (Member AEA, SAG), playwright and novelist. These loves are inextricable to me and so I spoke about basic theatrical techniques I've learned from theatre training and years of professional theatre and how you can apply them to your manuscript in order to make it a better book.

For example:

Questions Actors (and Authors) must ask of their characters:

What is my motivation?

How am I going to get what I want?
(Intention / tactics)

What is the conflict? (or, What’s keeping me from getting what I want?)

What’s my environment and how is it affecting me? (Context)


It's amazing what you come up with when you sit down and really ask these questions of yourself and your characters. It's useful in so many different artistic forms.

The great honour of the workshop session was when one of my favourite authors, Linnea Sinclair, who was attending the workshop- stood up and to my great delight, said she had a major lightbulb go off. And she shared with the class.

So my question to you, writers and readers, what are your questions to your characters? Do you have questions to add to this list? Does asking these questions crack open something for you too in your work in progress? Readers, have you ever been confused by a hero or heroine's actions or intentions and perhaps wondered these questions yourselves?


Leanna Renee Hieber, author of The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker, a ghostly, Gothic Victorian fantasy, now available wherever books are sold.


  1. Hi Leanna - I do this all the time - constantly asking myself if my character would actually behave this way and why - I think it definitely helps to flesh out who your character is. ;D Oy! been away for a bit but back to reading this great blog!

  2. Often my characters don't wait for questions - they just start telling me what they want. Just today my character told me she would drive a Mustang and not a BMW like her doctor husband wanted her to. :)

    Loved the post and great advice - I may have to insist on asking a few questions.

  3. Great post! Yes, I ask my characters questions, then again, sometimes they ask me.


  4. Joanna, Welcome back! *hugs* I think it's important to keep asking the questions as the story progresses.

    Thanks! Indeed, characters can sometimes be so pesky and vocal, can't they? But sometimes I find they've held out on me, and that's where asking the questions sometimes gets at the true intent of the matter, which I might have known unconsciously, but not in a way I can use or manipulate.

    Oh, I hear ya. My characters right now are like "are you ever going to clean up this draft of your sequel or not?" *runs and hides* ;)

  5. Hey Leanna

    Good questions, essential to the start of a good story actually.

    What I also do after this is 'sit down' with them and ask, who are you? Oftentimes, I find a lot of insight into the characters by knowing what their backstory is.



  6. Great post, Leanna. As Z said, it's helpful to actually interview your characters as you would for a person whose memoir you were writing. Like an actor getting inside the skin of a character for a role, this allows you to fully know them and understand their motivations. Much of this your readers will never see, but you'll be able to write your characters more authentically - from inside their heads, not just your own.

  7. Leanna, I'm a film school graduate, so a lot of my training there affects my novel writing. In film world, no one is going to go to the effort or expense to shoot an unnecessary scene (even though it still may end up edited out.) So I ask my writing self the same question my professors asked me: 'Why is that scene here? Can you tell the story without it?' If I can't, it stays.

  8. I love insights from authors on writing! The interview process with characters can be so revealing. It's funny but whenever I think about motivation in regards to acting, I remember an old story I heard supposedly about Harrison Ford's first gig.

    As the story goes, Harrison had landed a bit part in a movie. The director stopped him, admonishing that he should put more 'oomph' in his delivery.

    "You need to shine! When Tony Curtis played a bellhop, nobody thought of him as a bellhop. They took one look and thought--now There's a star."

    Harrison looked puzzled and responded, "But I thought he was supposed to be a bellhop."


    --Chiron O'Keefe
    The Write Soul:


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