At the moment there is a lot of fuzz on the internet about a social experiment. The question is: can you fall in love with anybody, if you spend time together, answer 36 questions and look into each others eyes for 4 minutes in the end?
I did not research the details of why it works, but it is quite obvious to me that one has to open up when answering these 36 questions. They are very personal, and you make yourself vunerable. You have to develop some trust (and thus most likely also affection) for the other person. And I also remembered a recent study on people who are against gay marriage. The scientists made them talk to gay people. How long would it take to smash their beliefs on gay marriage? 20 minutes. Yay to talking and listening to each other!
But when do I go on such a date with the characters of my stories? There is one exercise I frequently use with writers, when I find out that they do not know enough about their characters and their motivations, which always results in stereotypes and shallow characters.
It goes like this: Let the character chose a place he or she really likes. Meet them there. Get them their favorite drinks, let them talk, ask them questions, and listen carefully to what they say and how they say it. Keep in mind that – as in real life – characters tend to lie. Especially in the beginning of a date almost no one says the truth – why would you lower your guard immediately? It is a date, you do not want to get hurt right away. So listen carefully what your character tells you between the lines, and ask questions like “Oh, this is an interesting point of view. Why is this so important to you?” The question Why? is the magic bullet for developing characters. If you ask Why? about five times in a row, chances are you hit the truth of someones real emotional motivations, traumatas, fears and passions.
A fictional talk like this can be about a specific topic. But if you are at the very beginning of the story development, it might be better to use all 36 questions from the experiment.
I have chosen some questions that might be most helpul for this excercise. It was quite hard, because actually all questions are very interesting. So please have a look at the full list and use all of them, or chose the ones that suit the stage of your character development best.
Nevertheless, here are some of my favorites:
- What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?
- If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?
- Take four minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible.
- If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?
- Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?
- What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?
- What is your most treasured memory?
- What is your most terrible memory?
- If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?
- What does friendship mean to you?
- How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?
- Share with your partner an embarrassing moment in your life.
- When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?
- What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?
- Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?
Now it is your turn: What are your favorite exercises to get to know the characters of your stories? I am eager to read your comments!