Pensive questions for character creation

Write 6, 60 or 600 words. Text or poetry. See where any of these prompts take you!

Who are you?

I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!

Emily Dickinson

I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I know);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.

Rudyard Kipling

Personality questions

Personality questions are questions designed by psychologists. The intention is for the answer to give deeper insight into the qualities of the person answering. We can borrow these and re-purpose them, for example to learn more about a character in our work in progress. Choose one or more of the following questions and ask them of your protagonist, or another character in your WiP. (Or respond to the questions for yourself if you wish.)

  1. How would you describe yourself?
  2. What is the thing in your life you are most proud of?
  3. Have you ever said ‘I love you’ and not meant it?
  4. What did you learn from your greatest failure?
  5. What ritual helps you keep calm under stress?
  6. How does true love smell?
  7. Who is the person who knows all your secrets?
  8. To whom would you most like to say sorry, and why?
  9. When were you happiest?
  10. Where in the world would you like to wake up tomorrow?

Still from the American drama film The Greatest Question (1919) with Josephine Crowell and Lillian Gish, on page 57 of the March 13, 1920 Exhibitors Herald. Public Domain. Linked from Wikimedia Commons
Still from The Greatest Question (1919)
An unclothed woman in Washington, D.C. standing behind a "?" sign. Public Domain image. Wikimedia Commons.
Question Mark Woman (1922)

Illustrations in this post are Public Domain images from Wikimedia Commons.


  1. At present, I’m working through Salman Rushdie’s Masterclass ( In the second lesson he describes his six essential questions to ask yourself about the novel you have in mind to write. They echo the Rudyard Kipling quote in the Pensive rather well, so I thought I could share my notes with you.

    Salman Rushdie’s Six Questions for writing a novel

    1. Whose story are you telling? (Who is the focus – it can be more than one person, but you need at least one person whose story this is.)
    2. What is the story? (This may be a detailed structure, or it may be a general sketched idea which you can improvise within.)
    3. Why are you telling the story? (There are many ways to answer this, but you should know why you are telling this story, or why bother to tell it?)
    4. When does the story take place? (If that time is to be vivid to the reader, then you need to be able to (re)create it on the page.)
    5. Where does the story take place? (Rushdie says: “I can’t get the wheels turning until I know what the ground is under the wheels.”)
    6. How will you tell the story? (The hardest question. A matter of form and language. You can mess up a good idea by getting the How question wrong.

    If you know how to answer these six questions in respect of your novel, you know how to write it. You can start.

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