Jun 17

Characters in search of a story

Characters in search of a story


Some writers begin with a plot that they outline and then fill out with characters and details. Some claim that they ‘just start writing’ with no idea where it is going to go. Others start with a character, or a setting, or a concept or issue that they want to explore. There is no one way or right way to start writing and many writers use different starting points over time.


This is one idea for a way in which a writing group or an individual might start a story, in an organised but still open way. You would need to try it to see how well it works for you.


You need a set of Character Questionnaires, which you can find on the Internet but you might have developed your own depending on your experience. These are usually quite long and may include 15 to 50  things that the writer need to know in order to be familiar with their character, inside the character’s head and unlikely to make them act ‘out of character’.

They ask you questions that help to build up the character profile but the information is not meant to be transmitted directly to the reader.

Eg Age, general appearance, relationship status, family background, job, friends, hobbies, how others see them, favourite food, what is s/he afraid of, in what situation might s/he become violent……?

The writer needs to know but the reader will get to know the personality gradually as the story unfolds; ‘show don’t tell’.


Give the writers a list of six characters, briefly described. They should use ‘Character Questionnaires’ to add at least 6 -10 characteristics to the profiles each character (no more than 15-20 minutes in a writing group setting). eg

  • Forgetful, unpunctual but always thoughtful towards others if at times appearing somewhat interfering.
  • Witty, articulate, sometimes sarcastic, but popular despite having quite strong opinions.
  • Enigmatic, always somewhat vague about the past but seems well travelled and experienced.


As they build up their knowledge of the characters hopefully a story-line, or at least a genre will start to occur to them, into which they might fit these people.


When finished to jot down one or more ideas for a story, using some or all these characters, very briefly ie just a sentence: A spy story set in the 1960s;  A modern murder mystery….

Write a short story, the opening of a novel or a play, or just an outline plot using these characters.


At this point you will know whether you are viewing what you have done as a writing exercise or whether you wish to pursue it and take it to completion.


  1. Here’s another idea I picked up at the Theakston International Crime Festival in Harrogate a few years ago. Display/list the cartoon characters from the MR Men and [MRS/MS Men] series. Already you’ll have a treasure trove of characteristics. Ask participants to choose one of the characters and briefly describe how they might best be described/ behave in a story.

    1. Brilliant. I will use it!

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