Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Character Creation

and the Proust Character Profile Questionnaire 
by Sylvia Ney

There are many important elements of fiction. However, I feel like the most significant is character. Characters allow the reader to connect with the story in a more personal way through mental, emotional, and even social qualities relevant to the time and theme. I’m fascinated by motivation and social reflections. Even setting can be seen as a character on its own. Multi-dimensional characters (even when they are inanimate objects) aid the author in creating more credible, complex, and truly great tales. A “great” story is anything that consumes your attention so fully that it becomes depressing to put it down. I hope my own writing is able to do the same to others.  

Since completing my initial story outlines for “Paper Faces” in the First Love anthology and “WIN” in the Parallels anthology, I noticed a few holes as I worked to complete a final draft. I found my pacing was a bit awkward. I rushed some parts and left out details I needed to flesh out before the tales were complete. I want my own readers to become fully immersed in believable and enjoyable stories. Yet, I struggled in those early stages to find a balance in showing not only physical description and background information, but offering psychological and interpersonal glimpses to form a more compelling tale. 

Between the initial story outline and the finished draft, I realized I needed to focus more on the individual lives of my characters. I have always had an appreciation for history, social constructs, and character motivated adventures. However, my early drafts only skimmed the surface of who these people might be, and why anyone might care.

Then, I found the Marcel Proust Character Questionnaire. This tool became invaluable. I have seen character sketch activities before, but they were mostly about physical appearance. Many of them seemed arbitrarily useful for character creation. This one (the Proust Character Questionnaire) really made me think about who each individual was, and how I might continue plotting my tale. I encourage you to take a look and try to fill it out for at least three of the characters in your current WIP. For instance, in my latest romance I filled it out for my hero, heroine, and the villain. After all, those are the three most significant characters in my story. Upon completing all three, I realized I had a detailed outline for the story when I had not previously been certain how I wanted to proceed with the tale. I hope you’ll give it a try. Let me know in the comments how it goes. 

Works Cited 

Proust, Marcel. “Character Questionnaire”. Gotham Writers, Accessed April 5, 2022. 

Sylvia Ney is a freelance writer, editor, and teacher. She is currently serving as an Adjunct Professor for the University of Texas at Austin and as a high school English teacher. Sylvia has served as a Board Member of both the Texas Gulf Coast Writers and Bayou Writers Group of Louisiana. She has published newspaper and magazine articles, photography, poetry, and short stories. To learn more, visit