Here’s something I found just yesterday. Apparently in late 19th-century France, there was a survey that was supposed to reveal your true nature. (Hey, people had to do something before Facebook.) Marcel Proust didn’t invent the survey, but he did take it, so it bears his name today.
It seems that several different versions of the survey existed, but roughly speaking, the questions were:
- What do you consider your greatest achievement?
- What is your idea of perfect happiness?
- What is your current state of mind?
- What is your favorite occupation?
- What is your most treasured possession?
- What or who is the greatest love of your life?
- What is your favorite journey?
- What is your most marked characteristic?
- When and where were you the happiest?
- What is it that you most dislike?
- What is your greatest fear?
- What is your greatest extravagance?
- Which living person do you most despise?
- What is your greatest regret?
- Which talent would you most like to have?
- Where would you like to live?
- What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
- What is the quality you most like in a man?
- What is the quality you most like in a woman?
- What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
- What is the trait you most deplore in others?
- What do you most value in your friends?
- Who is your favorite hero of fiction?
- Who are your heroes in real life?
- Which living person do you most admire?
- What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
- On what occasions do you lie?
- Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
- If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
- What are your favorite names?
- How would you like to die?
- If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?
- What is your motto?
I’m using these questions for character interviews as I’m working on The Crane Girl. I’ve been impressed with how well they work. I’ve tried the questions for two of my main characters so far, and I understood them both far better afterward.
Creating strong, deep characters has always been my biggest weakness as a writer, so this is an especially valuable tool for me. I’m going to use it for my other major characters as I continue.
By the way, I’ve found it useful to “talk” to my character and find out their life stories first, before launching into more personal questions like the ones above. (Where were you born? What were your parents like? Did you go to school? What was your relationship with your teachers? Etc.) That way, I have some context for the questionnaire, rather than inventing answers in a vacuum.
Of course, every writer’s process is completely different. I need tools like character interviews because I struggle with character-writing, but for those who write characters naturally, this would probably be overkill.
For me, it’s plot that seems to come naturally. I don’t use any special tools there (aside from an outline), and I haven’t needed to. No doubt there are tools to help with plot as well, but I haven’t worked with them much yet.
Do you use any special tools in your writing or pre-writing? Or does it all just come out naturally?