In a recent Screenwriting Master Class course, one of the participants Mike Montgomery posted “Nine Questions” suggested by famed acting instructor Uta Hagen:
The following questions must be answered for each character study in order to define your role with as many specifics as possible. Consider these questions as research questions and continue to add answers and details as you explore and rehearse your character.
1. WHO AM I? (All the details about your character including name, age, address, relatives, likes, dislikes, hobbies, career, description of physical traits, opinions, beliefs, religion, education, origins, enemies, loved ones, sociological influences, etc.)
2. WHAT TIME IS IT? (Century, season, year, day, minute, significance of time)
3. WHERE AM I? (Country, city, neighborhood, home, room, area of room)
4. WHAT SURROUNDS ME? (Animate and inanimate objects-complete details of environment)
5. WHAT ARE THE GIVEN CIRCUMSTANCES? (Past, present, future and all of the events)
6. WHAT IS MY RELATIONSHIP? (Relation to total events, other characters, and to things)
7. WHAT DO I WANT? (Character’s need. The immediate and main objective)
8. WHAT IS IN MY WAY? (The obstacles which prevent character from getting his/her need)
9. WHAT DO I DO TO GET WHAT I WANT? (The action: physical and verbal, also-action verbs)
While I would draw a distinction between what a character Wants [Conscious Goal] and Needs [Unconscious Goal], this is a good list of questions to ask any character, both to help develop them and before you write any scene. After all, an actor’s desire to know their character and what makes them tick aligns with a writer’s. As an actor once told me, “If you don’t understand a character, how can you expect us to?”
What do you think of these questions? Are there other ones you would add to the list?