As I poke at main characters, my mind is apt to run Rogers and Hammerstein's Getting to Know You as background music.
Getting to know you
Getting to know all about you
Getting to like you
Getting to hope you like me
Well, who can account for brains overdosing on caffeine?
In the past I've written about getting to know your characters, deepening connections, and bonding with them by asking revealing questions. So it makes sense to go at this from the angle of 20 questions. The goal here is to build your appreciation for the main character (though you can use the same approach for other characters) and to have a better sense of the specific ways he or she will respond to challenges (aka, tortures) you'll hit them with.
- What is my protagonist's external goal? What is he or she willing to sacrifice (and change) for?
- Why does the story's protagonist want the goal so much? How will its successful attainment be fulfilling?
- What does my protagonist really need? What will make him or her a more complete and fully realized person?
- What does my protagonist fear? What would damnation be in his or her eyes?
- What is the protagonist's main virtue? Main flaw?
- What would the story's main character do only under extreme duress?
- How has the protagonist been hurt or traumatized?
- How do I connect with the protagonist? What part of me gives him or her life?
- Have I gone past the default of imagining a character like me to explore characters of different sexes, cultures, religions, abilities, etc., respectfully taking advantage of the full range of human experience?
- How will readers connect with the protagonist and why?
- What are the protagonist's most distinctive and important mannerisms?
- What are the protagonist's most distinctive and important physical attributes?
- Have I imagined the character in motion? Walking? Running? Climbing stairs? Dancing? Playing a sport?
- Have I imagined the character in a comfortable place, completely at ease and able to be his/her unguarded self?
- Have I imagined the character in a strange or hostile environment?
- Have I imagined the character celebrating, grieving, enraged, determined, joking, and otherwise emotionally aroused? Have I imagined transitioning from one strong emotion to another?
- Have I placed the character in relation to other characters? Do I know him or her as a social creature?
- Do the protagonist's most important aspects come across in a timely manner in the story?
- What is it about this protagonist that makes him or her the best character to act in the story?
- Does the protagonist have agency? Can he or she act to achieve the story goal and answer the story question?
Next time, I'll provide 20 questions on story settings.