Monday, May 2, 2011

PEP Rally: 50 Questions to Ask Your Characters

It's time for another PEP rally by our guestblogger Sam.  Just as a reminder, PEP stands for Productivity, Ego, and Procrastination, the three most important things to a writer after their computer or favorite pen. Even though the Rally was created to start a week off right, it can help combat the dreaded writers block any day of the week. These tips and activities will get you moving towards that word count in no time. Well, maybe not the last one, but who said you have to be all work?


One of my most difficult challenges when writing is trying to get into the mindset of my characters. Would they really say this, do that, wear that hat? Sometimes I find that I can really get into their heads and understand everything about them down to the most finite of details for their existence. For example, I know exactly what one of my original characters is going to name all of her children and how far apart they are going to be born. But it’s taken me several years now to fully understand her in that way. Some of you might not have the luxury of not actually having to finish anything and are under more of a time crunch when it comes to learning things about the character you’ve created. Even though they are in your head, there are most likely several things that you don’t actually realize about them yet. 

Today’s productivity task is an interview to help you get a better grasp of your characterization.

Name and age?

Nickname? Who gave it?

What is most noticeable about your character’s appearance/physical presence? How does he or she feel about it?

Describe his or her voice, verbal ticks, pet phrases etc.

Describe a gesture your character makes.

Where does he or she now live? Describe the city, town or village, the house itself. Any feelings about this place?

Has s/he lived elsewhere? What does s/he remember of these places?

What part of her home is her favourite? Least favourite? Why. Describe, using specific details.

What does your character’s bedroom/sleeping place look like?

What does he or she wear to sleep in?

What does your character dream of at night?

Who are/were her parents? Rest of family? What does she feel for them?

Class, ethnic group, religious background?

Who does s/he love, or has s/he loved? Or what. Detail.

Who loves him or her?

Married/ in relationship/single?

How does your character feel about sex/intimacy? What sexual relationship(s) is he or she involved in?

Exactly what does your character do to make a living (or in the case of a child, what do his/ her parents do; or in the case of independent wealth, how does he or she pass the time?)? How much does s/he earn? Feelings about work? What is the best part of the job, the worst?

Who or what does/he fear?

What about his or her life would he or she change if s/he could?

Does the character have a hobby? Secret passion? (Can be something ordinary like soccer playing or yoga classes or mountain biking or sewing or fixing up old trucks - or an unusual interest like some Greek poet from the third century, or collecting spiders, or walking the tightrope…

What would be his or her favourite smell ( why)?

What kind of shoes does he or she wear, (e.g. furry slippers or gumboot or trainers… new or old, style, what colour, fitting properly or too tight or too loose, nice and clean or old and smelly)? Describe exactly.

Favourite meal? Attitude to food?

Favourite clothes?

What is the worst thing that could happen to him or her right now?

What vehicles does your character use/own? (for example: bike, skateboard, truck, yacht, stroller, canoe, spaceship, battered pickup, etc.. please be as exact as possible). What are his/her feelings towards it/them. What kind of journeys does he or she make?

What is his or her most treasured possession?

What illnesses has he or she suffered, if any?

What’s his/her philosophy of life?

What does he or she feel guilty about?

Biggest mistake ever made?

Best thing he/she ever did?

What, right now, does your character want most of all? His or her deepest desire – a glass of water, to get out of their marriage, a new pair of shoes, peace and quiet…

Ego Boosting Activity

The Ego boosting activity this time around is as simple as can be. Read out loud! It’s a great way to listen for continuity and find bits that you’re really proud of. Grab two different colored writing utensils and go to town marking things that sound good to your ears with one color and things that you might want to work on with the other. I personally like to read my work out loud in a horrendously fake British accent when I’m done and ready for proofing. Another idea to try reading it out loud, but backwards! Go paragraph by paragraph and check for the flow of each part rather than whole piece from start to finish.


While procrastination is fun, getting to help people without actually getting out of your seat is even better. Combine the two and you’ve got one of my absolute favorite websites. is a non-profit website run by the United Nations World Food Programme. It began in 2007 as a simple vocabulary definition/synonym game in which each correct answer earned you 10 grains of rice, which the UN will then donate to families in need that live in disadvantaged countries. Since then they have added changeable levels and six new subjects with subcategories in each. You can kill some serious time on this site, let me tell you. They added an account feature so that you can keep track of how much you have earned. I’ve only just gotten one because I didn’t want to know how much time I’d been wasting. But it allows you to add friends and join different groups. So you get to increase your brain power, feed some families in need, and challenge your friends to Rice-offs, what more could you need?

Today's  post is brought to you by our very special guest blogger, Sam Spellman. Sam is currently an undergraduate at Beloit College and hopes to obtain a degree in Creative Writing, with a possible double major in Psychology. When not tackling school, Sam spends time with her friends and Kappa Delta sisters or re-mastering old school Mario Video games. She works in the technical services department of Beloit’s library.

Images thanks to smiling_da_vinci and rachel sian on


  1. This is a fun little exercise and I can see how it -could- be helpful, although it turned out not to be for me. I find it really easy to get into my characters heads, in fact, I probably live in their heads more than my own. So doing their perspective and even their relationship growth is so natural for me. The part where I DO get into trouble is plot. For example, I could probably never write a romantic suspense or even a mystery, because that part honestly doesn't really appeal to me - or at least it doesn't come naturally to me. Even when I read, that is all filler and I am like - where is the relationship. So maybe you have some writing tips for...

  2. Hi Amber! Thanks for the feedback. I can see what you mean, and each writer has different strengths. We definitely plan on posting some tips on plot development. Thanks again for the comment!

  3. Cool post. I do something similar to this when I'm planning longer pieces, and there are some new angles/questions in here I'll be adding to that.