Uta Hagen’s “Nine Questions”

July 8th, 2012 by

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?

8 thoughts on “Uta Hagen’s “Nine Questions”

  1. mommyfollows says:

    “What surrounds me” could be expanded. “What surrounds me and what do I think of key objects?” … “Who surrounds me and what is the nature of my dynamic with key people (or perhaps animals)?”

    Boiling down to — Is the character reacting properly to the people or important things around him as dictated by the story context?

    It doesn’t matter whether the tablecloth is pink or neon orange or nonexistent if the detail doesn’t tell us anything and/or if the character isn’t affected by it… I worry someone might read the nine questions and get caught up in inventory.

  2. Debbie Moon says:

    I’m paraphrasing a bit here, but the theatre director Declan Donnellan said something like: “An actor should never ask ‘Who am I?’ Much more useful are the twin questions ‘Who would I rather be?’ and ‘Who am I afraid that I am?’ ”

    I’m not sure I’d ban ‘Who am I?’, but as add-ons, the other two questions are a great way to start working out your character’s personal journey…

    1. Aren’t those two questions covered by “What do I want?” and “What is in my way?”?

  3. Debbie Moon says:

    Probably. But I like the way they’re phrased in terms of identity, not external goals – internal journey, not external one.

  4. Excellent questions – I would also suggest these as further guidance… Have each character answer:

    1. What do I say about myself when I’m alone?
    2. What do I say about myself in company?
    3. What do I say about others?
    4. How do others describe me to my face?
    5. How do they describe me when I’m not around?

    As a performer, I go through every script with a pen and journal and answer these questions, as well as ones along the lines of Hagen’s.

    But as a writer, I can answer them for myself in order to really nail the contrast between what is said ‘out loud’ and all the necessary subtext to drive my dialogue in the direction of juicy rather than nosey. :)

    Hope these help!

  5. Hey Debbie, I think you’re right, and Who am I changes all the time,but it’s just talking about things that we can’t control or don’t change, not adjectives.

  6. […] Uta Hagen’s “Nine Questions” (gointothestory.blcklst.com) […]

  7. […] know them backwards and forwards. Get out of your head and be someone else. It’s fun! (Click here for a list of questions to better help you understand your […]

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