How to Get to the Core of a Character – Part 2: Writing Your Own Questions, and Answering Them


SPOILER ALERT: This post includes spoilers through the end of Of Witches and Wind. If you haven’t read it yet, please don’t read the second section!

Develop YOUR core questions.

So, in yesterday’s post, I listed my core questions, which is basically what I ask myself (and others) both when I’m analyzing people and creating characters. I WHOLEHEARTEDLY recommend asking yourself questions while trying to get the core of who people and characters are.

BUT that doesn’t mean you should be asking the SAME questions.

You can if you want. I won’t stop you. But if those questions don’t interest you, if they don’t fill you with a fire to learn more about your characters, scrap them—and make up your own.

Maybe your passion lies in people’s dreams. So, your questions might look more like this:

  • What does this person want to become? What are they doing right now to fulfill their goals?
  • What was/is the biggest external obstacle to making that dream? And what’s the biggest internal one?
  • How does this dream influence this person’s experience of the world? What do they see MORE clearly, because of that dream? What do they see LESS clearly?

Or maybe you’re more interested in the friendships and relationships between the characters:

  • Who is this person’s best friend? Have they always been best friends? If not, who was the best friend before, and why the switch?
  • Does this person consider his/herself a good friend? Is that accurate?
  • What is their definition of a good or bad friend?
  • How have their friendships evolved over time?

Seriously, we’re talking endless possibilities here.

Journeypen Logo - v1 If you answer them deeply, if you spend enough time letting them lead you to the core of who a character is, the wording of the questions are unimportant. I could have used either example above to develop the characters of The Ever Afters series and come up with the same cast. What’s really important is the exploration; you’ll dive so deeply into a person that you see as much of them as you can.
You can only depict a character as well as you can understand them; the more you know, the more of their personalities and growth you can show, and the more you—and your readers—can relate.

Answer the questions…and take as much time as you need.

There is no wrong way to answer a question—and no wrong method for answering.

I love discovering more about my characters in freewrites and in long conversations with friends, but it must be said: sometimes, you won’t be able to fully understand your characters until your first, second, or even third drafts are complete.

You may even finish a whole book and still not know your characters very well. For example, when I turned in OGAI, I knew that Chase was half-fairy. I knew he used to live with his mom, but I didn’t know he chose to live with his dad. I didn’t even know what a Turnleaf was. While I was writing OWAW, my understanding of Chase Turnleaf changed just as drastically as Rory’s did.

In other words, let your characters evolve, and let them surprise you—even when you think you’ve already learned everything about them.

These posts are dedicated to Zenith, Isabella S., and Adina E., who all asked me about my approach to writing characters this year. 


  1. Willow October 30, 2015
  2. May October 31, 2015