Character Study | Interrogating Your Characters, Or a Backwards Design Approach to Characterization

I’ll be featuring a series of posts on characterization in August. This week’s post focuses on questions to ask your characters.


I don’t talk about my day job here on the blog very often, but I’m in a curriculum development position at a university here in Phoenix. Being in the education industry is rewarding, creative, and challenging. Turns out, it can also be great for finding new ways to approach writing.

When I create characters, I usually start with a loose physical description and demographic profile. To amp up the identity and dimension, you have to go beyond the census questionnaire. One method is through backward design, which involves determining the outcome, assessments to measure the outcome, and planning.

Or perhaps in more familiar terms:


I really think of backward design as a series of ongoing questions: Where do I want to be? How do I know where I’m going? How can I plan my route? For characters, this might break down in a couple of ways, always circling back to a central element of change.


Keep in mind, this is backward design – interrogating your characters until you can’t drill deeper. To me, these questions are a little more plot/setting focused. However, they still offer space for character-driven development.

backward design

When I started thinking about the questions, these three were the first ones that came to mind. To me, they come back to the core of the character. If an internal or external factor prompts change, why does it matter to that character? To the plot?

If the stimulus doesn’t elicit a response, is there a point?


How will you apply this technique to your writing? What questions can you ask your characters?

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3 thoughts on “Character Study | Interrogating Your Characters, Or a Backwards Design Approach to Characterization

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