5 Awkward Questions to Ask Your Protagonist

CB8PFQR6E9

I love asking questions. Awkward, weird, wonderful questions that get to the heart of people. It’s one of my favorite parts of getting to know someone. And while the following questions are perhaps a little too personal for general consumption, they are great for grilling protagonists (and other characters) and making them ‘fess up their guts. The thing to remember is that it’s not only what the character answers, but how they answer. A refusal to answer can be equally revealing. The trick is not letting the protagonist off the hook with a one or two word answer–hence, I’ve added bullet points after each question giving additional probes. Get ready to have some character fun!

1.) Would they wear the same clothes two days in a row? More than two days? Do they believe in the ‘smell test’ for clothing?

  • Can reveal their perspective on cleanliness
  • Can reveal their socioeconomic class
  • Can reveal how good their sense of smell is
  • Can reveal how conscious they are of how others view them
  • Can reveal their perspective on themselves
  • Can reveal general standards for the culture

2.) A bird poops on them. How do they handle it?

  • Can reveal their view of animals
  • Can reveal how they handle negative surprises
  • Can reveal their general outlook on life – positive or negative
  • Can reveal how prepared they are for messes

3.) Unexpected pregnancy–how do they deal with it? How would they react if they found out they were pregnant, or that their spouse/significant other was pregnant?

  • Can reveal their relationship status
  • Can reveal their attitude towards family and children
  • Can reveal their level of preparedness
  • Can reveal their religious background
  • Can reveal the sexual/courtship rituals of the culture

4.) What are they addicted to? What is the one thing they could never give up?

  • Can reveal their vices – think about ordinary, everyday issues
  • Can open up possibilities for areas of weakness
  • Can open up discussion about how they handle those vices. Are they ashamed? Proud?
  • Can diversify their characterization with negative traits

5.) Who or what would they die for? Why? If no one/nothing, why not?

  • Can reveal their perspective on death/the afterlife
  • Opens up philosophy and religious aspects
  • Reveals who/what they value
  • Can reveal their personality, in terms of pragmatism, martyrdom, selfishness, etc

Feel free to answer any questions from your character’s POV in the comments–or add your own questions!

24 thoughts on “5 Awkward Questions to Ask Your Protagonist

  1. Nice list! I don’t think I’ve ever asked one of my characters what they’d do if a bird pooped on them. Let’s see…

    Harsha would cringe at the very least, possibly gag, then stop everything she was doing to search her purse for something to clean herself up with and probably find it. If she didn’t find it, she’d hightail it to someplace with soap and water. Then she’d make sure cleansing wipes got added to her list of staple purse supplies and never be without them again.

    Seraph would indifferently burn it off.

    Zeeb would find something to clean it off with, even if it was just blades of grass or sand. He’d avoid touching anything until he could wash properly, though.

    Arvid would wrack her brains to try and remember if any of her mother’s healing salves included bird poop as an ingredient then either clean it off or rub it in depending on what she remembered.

    Tai would laugh, then remove his shirt and use it to wipe himself off. If the bird got his pants, he’d just remove those, too.

  2. My characters’ responses. 😀 (Oh boy, this got long. Haha.)

    1.) Would they wear the same clothes two days in a row? More than two days? Do they believe in the ‘smell test’ for clothing?

    – Kevin: “I’ll go more than two days for jeans but only a day for most stuff, and I only sniff test if I’m feeling lazy and want to wear something again that’s been worn a lot more than usual, or unless I’ve, like, been at a bonfire and wondering if my jacket smells like smoke.”
    – Catherine: “I only wear things once, unless it’s denim or dry-clean-only. And I sniff-test those things like crazy to make sure I’m not going to walk around smelly! Haha.”
    – Thraunya: “I don’t need to wear the same clothes more than one day in a row. I have enough to last me several weeks.”

    2.) A bird poops on them. How do they handle it?

    – Kevin: *makes a face* *laughs it off, but is internally irritated that he’s going to have a mark on his clothes/hair from it* *cleans it up with soap and water and then doesn’t care after that except for being irked if it’s a visible spot*
    – Catherine: *yelps and panics a little* *aggressively cleans it as best she can, still panicky and grossed out* *is not comfortable or happy for the rest of the day until she can take a shower and change clothes*
    – Thraunya: *is annoyed at the indignity* *scrapes/cleans it off without much comment and without drawing any attention to the event* *thoroughly washes hair/clothes/whatever later, when she gets a chance*

    3.) Unexpected pregnancy–how do they deal with it? How would they react if they found out they were pregnant, or that their spouse/significant other was pregnant?

    This is hard to say since none of them are married at this point…so I split it into two scenarios…married and unmarried.

    A.) Under some circumstance you are tempted and have premarital sex. Pregnancy happens. How do you react? B.) If you were married and faced an unexpected pregnancy, what would you do then?

    – Kevin: “As for A – That would be like a slap in the face; I probably got overconfident and thought I could get away with the sin. I’d hate myself and be really angry for awhile, and brainstorm a million ways to hide the sin that didn’t involve abortion. I’d be furious that my own actions destroyed the life I was planning and hoping for. Eventually I’d be driven to confess my sin, and I would marry the girl as long as it was feasible, and adjust and eventually be grateful, I’m sure. I’d just be very angry at first, mostly at myself for such a massive moral failure. And with B… I’d still be really ticked at my derailed plans, haha. But I’d accept that a lot faster just because I would be in a minimal position to have a family.”
    – Catherine: “Wow…I can’t imagine. Um… I guess if I wasn’t married I’d be really scared, and cry a lot, but I’d still love that baby like crazy and be excited to be a mom. I would worry about what people thought of me, for sure. I’d be scared the guy would leave me, or even more scared if he wasn’t someone I wanted to spend my life with, because that’s awful and I wouldn’t know what to do… On the other hand, if I was married I’d just be super happy and excited, even if it was a surprise!”
    – Thraunya: “It wouldn’t happen. It almost never happens to Kraesinions. We are not fertile enough. If I somehow did end up in that situation, it would be a challenge, but I would recognize that my own choices led to that and I’m sure I would have factored it into my decisions at the time. So I would have considered that possibility.”

    4.) What are they addicted to? What is the one thing they could never give up?

    – Kevin: “Like, clinical addictions? I don’t have any. If I had a job I liked more I think I would be addicted to work. And I could never give up my iPhone. It keeps me connected to other people and updated on what’s going on in the world, and gives me something to do during idle moments…I don’t like just sitting around.”
    – Catherine: “Chocolate! I could never give that up. Or family. I couldn’t give up my family, for sure.”
    – Thraunya: “That depends. How are you defining addictions? I enjoy using netissian air regularly but I don’t believe I am addicted to it. As for what I won’t give up…I suppose my independence.”

    5.) Who or what would they die for? Why? If no one/nothing, why not?

    – Kevin: “I’d die to save others in any dangerous situation. I think that’s my duty as a follower of Christ, to lay down my life for others, because I have the strength to do so. It’s something I’m very firmly convicted about. As for causes, I would die for what I felt was a just cause…or for Christ, if it came down to that and I was facing actual martyrdom.”
    – Catherine: “If I was brave enough, I would die for someone. I hope I would be brave enough, but I don’t know. I would hate myself if someone else died and I could have died in their place. Oh-h, I just really don’t like to talk about dying.” *looks uncomfortable*
    – Thraunya: “I would die for something or someone I deeply cared about, or a principle I hold strongly, such as the protection of my world or Earth. I wouldn’t necessarily risk my life for something unless I felt like I was the ideal person for that job, though. I’m not out looking for death.”

  3. Here are some other good questions to explore characters that I came across in some old documents of mine today:

    What’s in the fridge right now? What’s in the bedroom garbage can? What’s on their nightstand?

    Look at his/her feet. What do you see?

    What smells does he/she associate with his/her childhood kitchen?

    Your character is getting ready for a night out. Where is she/he going? What does he/she wear? Who will he/she be with?

    What three things would he/she take to a desert island?

  4. I laughed SO hard at Thraunya, Bethany!!!

    Great questions, Janeen!

    Okay, we’ll go with Slater (ISTJ) and then Olivia (INTJ).

    1. Same clothes two days in a row.
    Slater – Um… what’s wrong with that? I thought it was when you hit day 5… or wait. Was it day 7? that you had to change your clothes. Oh grief. Now all the ladies are going to think I’m gross. I DO change my underwear every three days. Or maybe every other. I don’t remember! I’m a bachelor and finally on my own! Do I HAVE to care? Man alive!

    Olivia – Eh. I try. Sometimes I’m really busy and just can’t. I don’t sweat. I don’t stink. I’m practically perfect like that. Plus, my stuff’s all leather and nylon. That stuff breathes well. And I work at night. Plus, why are you asking about my clothes anyway? It’s none of your beeswax, idiot.

    2. Bird poops on them.
    Slater – says every euphemism he knows under his breath. Makes sure not to actually curse, but says everything else that’s as close to cursing as he can get. Scrubs it off with his hand… “Now wait, RJ. Come on! THEN I would change my clothes! You’re destroying my reputation here.”

    Olivia – Totally curses. Just once. Then burns the outfit. Or at least throws it in a dumpster as far away from her house as possible. Probably shoots the bird.

    3. Unexpected Pregnancy
    Slater – (He’s not married) Goes into a reclusive state for a few weeks where he doesn’t eat or sleep and thinks through every aspect of his future and mourns the loss of his dreams. Then emerges and responsibly cares for his child. Ends up being a great and involved dad.

    Olivia – (not married) “Drat.” Doesn’t believe in abortion, but is tempted by it. In a hardened state of mind, refers to the baby as “It” and “fetus” and assumes she’ll miscarry because she keeps up her nightly “crime-fighting.” Delivers the baby safely and becomes a total over-protective, nurturing sap. Growls at anyone who tries to touch her child.

    4. Addictions
    Slater – “*sigh* Probably TV. Oh, and Girl Scout cookies. Star Trek… Oh, I’m definitely addicted to coffee. The internet? Gaming. Yes, gaming. Wow, I think I tend to be an easily-addicted person…”

    Olivia – “My job. And Slater.” *huge grin that is strangely evil looking*

    Slater – “Man alive. I would’ve said you, Olivia. I would’ve. I didn’t know we could list people. You know you’re my world.

    Olivia – *holds out a taser*

    Slater – “No. Put that down, baby. DOWN, girl.”

    5. Who would they die for?
    Slater – “Anyone. I’d love to be a hero. Honestly, I’d die for a stranger on a bus if I needed to. I’d like to think that’s in my nature. My brother’s in the military, and I can be a quiet hero over here in Seattle.”

    Olivia – “Anyone. It’s my life purpose, and I have a feeling it’s going to happen someday anyway. Being a protector is what I was born to do.”

  5. Reblogged this on quirkywritingcorner and commented:
    Considering how new I am to writing, I’ve not gone to great depths to build a background to my characters. I cover some basic issues, mostly those that pertain to the story. My second novel seemed like the characters were nothing more than names on paper. I’m going to review my characters again for my 3rd novel and add a bit more to them. ~ Connie

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s