36 Questions To Get To Know Each Other Better. Or: How To fall In Love With Your Characters

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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?

The answer is: Yes, it works. If you are interested in the scientific facts, download the PDF of the study.

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!

36 ways to find a lover, © Ines Häufler 2015

36 ways to find a lover, © Ines Häufler 2015

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!

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Ines36 Questions To Get To Know Each Other Better. Or: How To fall In Love With Your Characters

What is a scene?

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One of my script consulting teachers, Don Bohlinger, professor at the USC film department, taught me this:

“Each scene is either a chase or an escape.”

It is not only true for scenes with actual chases in action movies, but for basically every scene with more than one characters in it, and it is even true for scenes with a single character who has an inner conflict.

Today I found this quote by screenwriter and director Mike Nichols:

“Every scene is either a fight, a seduction, or a negotiation.” (source)

This also seems to be a good way to look at the scenes you write or analyze, especially if you check your draft before doing a major rewrite or prepare notes for a script meeting.

Questions you might want to ask:

  • Does each scene have a conflict?
  • What is this conflict about?
  • If it is more than one person: Who has a high status, who has the low status?
  • Who is chasing/seducing/fighting whom and why?
  • Who is trying to escape and why?
  • And do the characters switch status during the scene( which I personally always find interesting)?


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InesWhat is a scene?

On Pitching


From time to time I am giving lectures on pitching a story. I think I can stop that now, because most of the things you need to know are being said in this video. Writer and director Tony Gilroy hears a few loglines and gives his opinion on the storylines.

Footnote: Please let us not forget that making a movie is ALWAYS a very expensive and time consuming process, if you do it in a professional way and without exploiting yourself end everyone around you. If you want to sell a screenplay, you have to do your homework, step into the shoes of a producer for a  moment and try to see your script through their eyes. And for me this is what the video is about.

These are the most important points for me:

  • The high costs of a movie can almost always be predicted after reading only the logline.
  • The risk of gathering money for an expensive movie that is not adapted from a well known prior material is very high. If on top of that the script comes from an unknown writer, producers will probably stay away from the project.
  • A story that matches in tone and in some fragments of the story to well known other movies has a big chance of getting made. But the downside is that there is a huge competition in the market for such projects. You have to find the right amount of originality for these stories.
  • Is the script castable?
  • You need a really good title.
  • If the basic concept and the concept of ideas is so complicated that you can hardly get it in the logline, the pitch will most likely fail. (Which sounds reasonable, because how will you sell it to the audience then?)
  • What is the tone?

Before all of the European Arthouse film lovers start complaining in my comments, let me add something: Of course you can break those rules. Of course there are dozens of great movies which are successful nevertheless. And of course there are many movies of high artistic value, that are excellent and compelling just because they don’t stick to any rules. But the vast majority of movies is made to find an audience beyond the film festival circuit.

And if someone says “But if I stick to those rules the result will be the same old mediocre recycled stories again and again!” – let me tell you something about my approach to my work: I personally love constraints. Because they are a challenge – how can I bend the “corset” from the inside and create something new withing these constraints? I think, if with every new project that sits on my table literally everything would be possible, I would have quit my job a long time ago, because there is no challenge and I would be bored to hell. But maybe this is just me.

(Video link via Go Into The Story)

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InesOn Pitching

How To Pitch A Movie

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This is making the rounds on the internet at the moment, and indeed it is hilarious.

Nobody ever pitched a movie to me like that. Did you try this yourself once?

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InesHow To Pitch A Movie