When I’m teaching kids about creating characters, I have them bring in their favorite stuffed toys to class and interview their toys using a worksheet. At the top of the worksheet, I have them write the toys’ names, ages, and physical descriptions. Then they have to “ask” their toys these four questions:
- If you could have one wish, what would it be?
- What stops you from making that wish real?
- What could be the worst thing to happen to you?
- What would you do if that worst thing happened?
For most of the students, the answers are the same:
- To be real.
- I’m a toy.
- To become unstuffed.
- Get sewn back up.
When I’m creating a new story, I ask every character those questions, regardless of how big or small the role is. And I push past clichés to get at the heart of every character. (For example: Yes, dying could be the worst thing to happen to you, but it will happen eventually for every human! Let’s dig deeper…)
For a four-year-old character I’m working on:
- If you could have one wish, what would it be? To fly like a fairy.
- What stops you from making that wish real? I don’t have any wings.
- What could be the worst thing to happen to you? Losing Mail Fairy (treasured toy).
- What would you do if that worst thing happened? I would have nightmares.
The answers can be simple, but they have to give a glimpse into the heart of the character. And, of course, your story should include all the answers. I’ve found that the best stories have a character arc for every character.
When I started a new story and was browsing through a list of “character templates,” most of them seemed too intense for me. For my purposes, I found these four questions provided the perfect launching point to get my story going.
What other questions do you like to ask your characters?