Character-Building Challenge Day 2: Ten Question Interview

Tip of the Iceberg by Maria L. Berg 2023

For the second day of the first Writer’s Digest Character-Building Challenge the prompt is to choose one of the character names from yesterday and ask that character ten questions.

It’s going to be hard to choose just one. I liked a lot of the names I came up with yesterday, and they are all somehow characters in my mind already, so I may only choose one to share today, but let them all participate in time.

The Questions

I took a look at the suggested questions from Novel Writing: 10 Questions You Need to Ask Your Characters by Brenda Janowitz and they are good, somewhat intense first questions to get to know a character. The questions in the article are written in third person. I changed them to second person / direct address, to ask the character the questions. I decided to start with Merle Atlantis Tremble. Here’s my interview:

Hello, Mr. Tremble. I only have a few questions this morning, but they’re a bit personal. I hope you don’t mind.
First off, it’s pronounced Trem-blay, Trem-BLAY, not Tremble, and I do mind, I need to get back to my studies, but it’s not like I have a choice, is it.
Okay, let’s make this quick. Just ten questions.

  1. How old are you? How old do you feel?  I’m twenty-six, but I feel like I’m a hundred and twelve.
  2. Did you have a happy childhood? Why/why not? No. Kids are mean. I was nice, I shared, I tried to play their games, I did everything I was told, but they excluded me. But I was happy with my books. None of the characters were mean to me. Not me personally, anyway.
  3. Are you in a relationship? Tell me about your past relationships? How did they affect you? The woman in the apartment down the hall seems to like me, but no. I don’t have time for that. I thought I was in love with my lab partner in college, but she hasn’t spoken to me since we graduated and she moved back home. Strangely, I don’t miss her. I have too much to think about without silly romanticizing. I guess I have a good relationship with my mom and my sister at least when we see each other on holidays. Dad always seems mad at me, like my existing somehow is a disappointment, but he’s pretty easy to avoid, and Mom always says he loves me “in his way.”
  4. What do you care about? Oh, everything. I like to read the great thinkers, philosophy, literature, physics, eastern religions, technology, political science. You name it, I’m reading it.
  5. What are you obsessed with? Right now? Um, I guess I’m super-obsessed with Grand Unified Theory, but I’m also obsessed with Hegelian dialectics . . . Oh, and the Idiocracy.
  6. What is your biggest fear? Home invasion . . . No, life having no purpose . . . No, snakes filling up my apartment . . . No, I’ll have to get back to you on that.
  7. What is the best thing that ever happened to you? Ever? I’d have to say um, making it to the national spelling bee. I didn’t win, but I made it to nationals. I was on TV and everything.  The worst? That’s easy, being born.
  8. What is the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to you? I don’t get embarrassed easily. I don’t really care what people think. You have to care about other people and their opinions to get embarrassed. I guess, for me, missing the word at nationals was embarrassing.
  9. Tell me your biggest secret. My biggest secret, or the worlds biggest secret? Okay, are you ready? None of this is real. None of it. Not you. Not me. Not this room. Not that laptop you’re typing on. It’s all made up in my mind. And yours. I mean, we each make up our own reality, and what people say is real is a consensus of beliefs. It’s true. I mean as true as  unreal things can be.
  10. What one word defines you? You know, when I was a kid I hated my middle name, Atlantis—and my last name because everyone pronounced it wrong and kids are just mean—but now, I think my middle name defines me. I’m a lost advanced civilization. I exist in the unseen depths. I am a legend of mythical proportions. Am I real? No one knows.
Under the Surface by Maria L. Berg 2023

My Novel Draft

Here are my MCs answers to these questions:

  • How old are you? How old do you feel? I’m thirty-two but I feel older, maybe around forty-five?
  • Did you have a happy childhood? Why/why not? I had a great childhood, two loving parents that loved me and each other, until that day when I was nine. Dad was just gone. Mom tried her best to keep it together, to give me enough love for both of them, but we were never really happy again.
  • Are you in a relationship? Tell me about your past relationships. How did they affect you? I always said I was married to the job. I mean, No. I’m not in a relationship. And my past relationships were always casual. I was married to the job. But now, I don’t have that excuse, so  . . .
  • What do you care about? Solving Pauline’s murder. I can’t let it continue to go unsolved. I tried to let it go, but I can’t.
  • What are you obsessed with? Solving Pauline’s murder. And all the strange connections I keep seeing that no one else seems to get.
  • What is your biggest fear? That the killer will get away with it. I’m not as afraid that the killer will come after me, I’m afraid that they’ll live in the belief that they can kill without consequence and eventually do it again.
  • What is the best thing that ever happened to you? The worst? The best thing that ever happened to me was probably meeting Memphis. She’s been my best friend since elementary school. I don’t know who I’d be without her. Besides that, it was closing my first big case. I was on top of the world. The worst was my dad’s death.
  • What is the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to you? Being served with that Restraining Order at work. At the time I thought it was so unfair, but now, it’s just embarrassing.
  • What is your biggest secret? I stole evidence and have it in my garage. But actually Memphis knows about that, so it’s not really my biggest secret.
  • What is the one word that defines you? To everyone else, it’s probably as simple as “tall.” But I think it should be “sharp.”

That was really fun, and a good start to interviewing my characters. I have another list of questions called the Proust Questionnaire that I’ll run them through as well, and hopefully I’ll know my characters better when I’m done.

Character-Building Challenge Day 1: Names

Creating a Character by Maria L. Berg 2023

Happy first of March. Today is the first day of the first Writer’s Digest Character-Building Challenge. The first prompt is to create ten character names.

New Character Names

For today’s names I used my Character Creation Spreadsheet and a random number generator. Middle names made a big difference to me this morning, and when a first and middle no longer fit with the chosen last name, I kept trying random numbers until I found one that I liked better. Then, when I looked at my list, I switched a couple of last names around.

  1. Raine William Black
  2. Sonia Havana Cashion
  3. Seok Birch Purkey
  4. Seneca Lynn Zimmer
  5. Davenna Dale Byron
  6. Annette Rochelle Pudlewski
  7. Merle Atlantis Tremble
  8. Kirsi Jean Roth
  9. Pheak Bree Lebbesmeyer
  10. Shusha Moon Nguyen

I can already see Sonia Havana Cashion with high fashion shopping bags, Davenna Dale Byron reading a romance in a bubble bath with candles, Annette Rochelle Pudlewski calling the cops on her neighbors, Merle Atlantis Tremble daydreaming with a book in his lap. Now I’m excited for the next prompt to see what these characters get up to.

My Novel Draft

I thought I would use the prompts to take a close look at my novel draft’s characters and develop them further. Each of the five main characters in my novel represent one of the big five contradictory abstract nouns: Truth/Deceit, Beauty/ Ugliness, Happiness/Despair, Love/Apathy, Wisdom/Naivete. When I created the first and last names for these characters, I used the first rule mentioned in The 7 Rules of Picking Names for Fictional Characters by Elizabeth Sims and looked for names with root meanings that aligned with the abstract nouns the characters represent.

Today’s prompt made me realize that I didn’t give my characters middle names. But those middle names never came up either. It’s not that often that our middle names come up in daily life, at least not in my experience. However, parents usually put some thought into those middle names, and the names often have family connection, so choosing middle names may give me a little more information about my characters. To find middle names, I continued to look at name meanings that went with the character’s abstract nouns, and imagined their frustrated mothers or fathers saying the two names together to express the seriousness of a situation.

#NaNoPrep 101 Week Two – Creating Characters

Four characters sitting around a table: a teddy bear, a blue-faced woman, a woman in a wrestling mask and wood-sculpture faced man

This second week of NaNo Prep 101 is titled Create Complex, Believable Characters .

The exercise provided includes character questionnaires that you may find useful, but the final three questions are the most important:

  • Want
  • Need
  • Internal/External obstacles

Where I begin my characters

Weeks ago when I began the Writer In Motion Challenge, I talked about the Character Creation Spreadsheet I’ve created as a tool to spark my stories. Through my experience with quick-deadline short stories, especially participating in The Writer’s Games, I’ve learned that creating well-rounded, interesting characters inspires an interesting plot with conflict and purpose.

I am reading Mastering the Process by Elizabeth George and in Chapter 3 “Digging Deeper into Character” she gave me some ideas for new columns to my spreadsheet.

1. Core Need: This is the underlying motivation for everything the character does. The character may not be self-aware enough to know their core need, however, they will be by the end of the story. Elizabeth George gives some example of core needs as: approval, perfection, to be right, attention, etc.

I put the core need column right after the name columns in my spreadsheet and went searching for more (which reminds me, I need to add to my names columns. It may be time to weed out some over-used names as well). My search led to many articles of 6 core needs, 7 core needs, up to 10 (of course) human needs, but   I wasn’t attempting to dilute the idea to an easy list, so I have 31 so far and will keep adding.

2. Psychopathology or “Pathological maneuver”: Here’s where it gets fun. We all have moments where we are stunned by our own words and actions. We sit there asking ourselves, “Why did I do that?” Our actions are contrary to our needs and desires. Sometimes we even self-sabotage.

Elizabeth George calls these actions “pathological maneuvers.” In her list of these behaviors she includes: showering for hours, kleptomania, hoarding, and bullying. She also includes all manias and phobias, obsessions, and compulsions. In my column, which I put directly after the core needs column, I looked up lists of manias and phobias and will keep adding.

I already have a core fear and secondary fear column on my spreadsheet, but they are more about the underlying beliefs than the manifestations in actions. It will be interesting to see what comes to mind when the fears and behaviors collide.

With these two aspects of the character influencing thoughts and behaviors every scene will have an agenda and tension. I’m excited to try out these new additions to my Character Creation tool and see who is coming to play in my next story.

The Future and My Character Creation Spreadsheet

I started thinking about specific characters for my NaNoWriMo Novel and realized I needed a new Character Creation Spreadsheet. Naming trends will be different, as will occupations, hobbies, causes, maybe even fears. With those thoughts in mind, I decided to create a science-fiction-specific character creation spreadsheet.

Review of Character creation and development

Over the years I have collected many writing references and almost every one has a chapter or more on character creation and development. I thought this week would be a good time to review the materials I have and select exercises and ideas for this project.


I got myself a full-access pass to in 2019 and really enjoy it. Each class comes with a workbook. I thought I would take a look through some of my favorites and see what they have to say about character.

Margaret Atwood had an interesting chart that she uses to reference her characters in time. The chart has the months on the left and blanks along the top for years. She begins by charting the character’s birthday. Then she charts dates of major events that influence that character.

Neil Gaiman likes to find his characters through listening, so his character development is about condensing speech and interviewing your characters.

David Mamet says there is no character, only actions. This idea correlates well with this video from Pixar in a box:

Joyce Carol Oates encourages getting to know your characters as if they are people you have met in real life. She says it’s important to choose characters who fascinate you. Write an exploration into why exactly they are so important / unique to your perspective.


Wonderbook by Jeff Vandermeer explores four main approaches to characterization:

  1. Obsessive Immersive – includes stream of consciousness to be fully inside the character as if living inside a brain
  2. Full (rounded) – interior thoughts and emotions, but the thoughts of the character do not define everything
  3. Partial – characters remain mysterious to some extent. Idiosyncratic/ Type driven.
  4. Flat – folk tales/ fairy tales. Archetypes existing on symbolic and literal level.

Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass – The first twelve chapters are Character Development. Almost all of the exercises are about increasing stakes and conflict. Once I have created some characters to play with, exploring these exercises will definitely help me come up with some plot points.

Wired For Story by Lisa Cron focuses on the importance of the reader relating to the protagonist to have a visceral, emotional reaction to the story. What moves a story forward is the protagonist’s actions, reactions and decisions (agreeing with Mamet?). Character bios should concentrate on information relevant to your story.

Now Write! Screenwriting edited by Sherry Ellis and Laurie Lamson – Anything that makes it easier for you to create your characters is a good tool. Explore the public, personal and private lives of your character. Find your character’s dramatic truth. Characters’ actions under duress demonstrate who they really are (this is sounding familiar).

To produce active characters ask:

  1. What does my character want?
  2. Why does s/he want it?
  3. Why can’t s/he get it?
  4. What does s/he need?

Identify protagonist’s inherent weakness that creates a psychological need. The inciting incident causes the protagonist to want something and take steps to get it. The action of the inciting incident reveals the protagonist’s weakness.

List physical, psychological and sociological aspects of your character. Use these aspects to create contradictions through contrasting details.

Mapping the Hero’s Journey With Tarot by Arwen Lynch – The first chapter of the book is about using the court cards to answer some questions about your character. Chapter two explores your character in his/her ordinary world.

Youtube Videos

I made a creating characters collection of some videos I found on youtube

Pixar in a box collection has some videos on character

My Plan for this week

Last week I noticed that listing my plans for the week helped me see clear, actionable goals and get things done. I started reading comps, immersing myself in related, movies and shows, collecting futurist signals specific to my project and more.  This week I hope to create a cast of characters to start getting to know.  Here’s my plan:

Random Number Character Creation Spreadsheet: Once I have created my new sci-fi specific spreadsheet, I will use a random number generator to create characters to populate my future world.

Explore my characters with Tarot: I will use Lynch’s exercises to flesh out my characters further.

Fill in Character sheets in Scrivener including images: From my randomly generated characters, I will select my protagonist, antagonist and other main characters and fill in the rest of their Character sketch sheets. Once I have solidified some ideas about my characters, I’ll head over to my Pinterest board of possible characters and find images of how they look.

Free-write about characters: After I have a fuller picture of who my characters are, I’ll do some timed free-writes. First from my perspective. Then in their own voices.

Interview characters: I will look through my resources and collect questions that I think will help me get to know my characters better, trying to make them as story-specific as I can. Then I will imagine that I am having a conversation with my character, asking them the questions I’ve collected and writing down their answers, noting their physical reactions and body language.

During NaNoWriMo 2017 I wrote a blog post every day. One of the things I included was a section with questions to ask your character. Many of those questions came from the Great Questions List that is part of ‘s project to record humanity’s stories.

Physically act out walk, body movements, and voice of main characters: While reading Voice Acting by , I recorded myself reading the script to put yourself into your character. Like a meditation, it guides me into putting myself into my character and becoming them to explore how they sound, how they hold themselves as they speak because that influences how the voice sounds. Yesterday, while I was collecting Youtube videos about character, I found this video with a similar technique. (starting 14:40)

Start thinking about my characters’ actions and reactions in possible story scenarios and writing exercises from the Breakout Novel Workbook.

How do you create and develop your characters?

Do you have specific resources and tools you like to use?

Happy Reading and Writing!