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?

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