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Story Questionnaire

By Michael Schilf · January 21, 2010

1. Who is your main character? Hero? Anti-hero?

2. Why should we be interested in them?

3. What attracts you to your protagonist? Do you like them? Loathe them?

4. Why do you need to write about them?

5. Why should we be excited about them?

6. Why do you believe we will find your hero sympathetic? Empathetic?

7. What makes us curious about them? What is their "mystery"? What is their "magic"? Charisma? How do you show it?

8. What does the audience find in the main character's story that is relevant to them? Why do you believe they will identify with them?

9. What is the cherished secret desire of your main character?

10. Do we laugh at your hero, feel amused by them, or do we admire them?

11. What do we hope for?

12. What are we afraid of?

13. What is the worst thing that could (and hopefully will) happen to your hero?

14. What is the most favorable, brightest moment that they will experience in the story?

15. What are they going to lose if they don't find a way to overcome the adversities?

16. Why can't your characters get what they crave?

17. How can you make the obstacles – inner or exterior – more insurmountable?

18. How can you make the threat, the danger, more excruciating, agonizing, humiliating? Who can do that? Why should they?

19. Why can't your characters live at peace with their conscience, respect themselves if they don't get what they so passionately want?

20. And: what is it that your characters want (consciously and tangibly)?

21. On the other hand: what do your characters need (on the emotional, subconscious level)?

22. How can you make the temptations more irresistible and the stakes higher?

23. What can you do to eliminate the audience's disbelief in the initial situation or collision (willing suspension of disbelief)?

24. Is there a deadline (time pressure) for the action to come to a resolution? Could there be? Who can create it?

25. When and how do your main characters realize that they are in trouble and that they must extricate themselves?

26. What are the alternatives you can imagine? How can the problem be solved?

27. But why is it impossible? Who or what makes the solution unattainable?

28. Can the predicament be evaded? What would happen if it were? Who makes the evasion impossible?

29. Can the complication be ridiculed, ignored, forgotten? Make sure that it cannot!

30. Can it be solved peacefully on friendly terms? Who will impair it?

31. Who are the supporting characters your main character can rely upon?

32. Who are the supporting characters your protagonist hopes to get on their side?

33. What doesn't your hero anticipate, know about?

34. What does your hero – falsely – expect that won't happen?

35. Who are the supporting characters who are a threat, who try to humiliate, stop, ridicule, or destroy your hero's plans? Do they know about the secret desires that your hero cherishes?

36. What are their plans? What tactics do they use? What mimicry, what subterfuge? How do they try to mislead, misdirect, confuse the main character?

37. What are their hopes, desires, dreams? What do they want and need?

38. How do they rationalize their moves?

39. How can their stubbornness, hatred, rage, damaged self-esteem, ambition be fueled? What can help them to feel righteous in their actions?

40. Will the audience understand why your characters act as they do?

41. When does the audience get to know your characters' particular intentions, desires, hopes, and fears?

42. How can the next step that your protagonist makes lead to the unexpected result? What's the miscalculation?

43. What did the counter player do? How did the circumstances change?

44. How can the goal be made more desirable? Who can do that?

45. What can create the hesitations, doubts, or scruples in the character's mind?

46. Try to imagine all the places, locations, sites that your character can enter in pursuit of their objective or evasion of the danger. Aren't there some more interesting situations there? More contradictory?

47. How can the locales make the story and the specific scenes or sequences more dramatic, more complicated and difficult (therefore, more revealing) for the characters?

48. Make a list of possible events that can happen believably and plausibly in your chosen environment and a list of possible events that would be unusual, out of routine, and order. Do you see which ones will work best?

49. What are the emotions, conclusions, and decisions that result from the setback, failure, or complication?

50. What emotions does the insult, mistreat, injustice evolve? What danger, what abyss becomes visible for the viewer that the hero doesn't see?

51. What are our expectations now? What do we hope for? What do we wish the characters would do? Why can't they do it?

52. What doesn't the main character know? What is the error, intentional blunder?

53. Do the antagonists mobilize their forces? Do they set a trap? Do they try to confuse the main character?

54. What are the social reasons for their actions? Do they come with accusations? Direct lies? Do they outwit the main character? How?

55. Does the hero panic? Feel alarmed? Insecure? Horrified from the realization of what could happen?

56. And what happens that helps the protagonist? On the other hand, what can help the antagonist?

57. What characters can act as catalysts that can alter and increase the reactions of the antagonist or protagonist?

58. What character (or characters) can go through a similar plight and find a different solution – compromise, assimilation, rejection etc.?

59. What relationships become threatened, broken up, or suddenly transformed?

60. What consequences of the previous actions can aggravate the situation?

61. What are the places your characters don't want to go? Are afraid to go? How do you force them there?

62. What is the prevailing mood/tone of the whole story? Does the environment have a face, character, and temperament?

63. Does the time period reflect on the environment? How? What expresses it besides costumes, props, architecture and means of transportation and communication? How does it reflect our human attitudes, habits, customs, social events, rituals, and language?

64. Are the events sufficiently important and impressionable? Do they help to elucidate the life style, engagement, and involvement of your protagonist?

65. Does the main hero show naiveté, weakness? Disbelief? Re-evaluate everything?

66. Do your hero regret? Recriminate? Seek conciliation? Reject the original plans?

67. Did you exhaust all the possibilities of self-assurance, shrewdness, and foresightedness that your hero can possess?

68. Did you give your antagonists a chance to show their intelligence, vigilance, and alertness?

69. What precautions do your characters take? Do they look for advice? For help?

70. What new plans do they come up with? How do they acquire new courage? What or who can suggest a new stratagem for them?

71. How does your hero study the adversary? Does your protagonist discover the weakness of the antagonist? Or are they wrong in their assumption? What trap can both sides set?

72. How can they attack each other? How can your hero test the enemy?

73. How does inner turmoil grow in their minds? How does it embitter the antagonism?

74. What do you feel is the rhythm of the story? Does the tempo of the main action accelerate?

75. What can interrupt, temporarily stop, misdirect, or confuse the growing conflict?

76. Are the chances for the desired resolution and for the despised outcome equal?

77. What is the moment that the viewer becomes ultimately curious about?

78. What does the audience impatiently expect?

79. What doesn't the audience realize will happen when the moment comes?

80. Is the resolution becoming inevitable? What could reverse the course of the action? Did the hero try all the possible ways and means and find out what they inevitably lead to?

81. What hopes still remain for the main character?

82. What are the most feared confrontations that the protagonist tries – in vain, obviously – to avoid, postpone, deny?

83. What is the most humiliating, painful extremity your hero will experience?

84. What is the moment when your antagonist feels triumphant?

85. How can you increase the adversary's determination not to give up, not to show any restrain, to fight to the bitter end?

86. How can bad – or good – timing heighten the stakes (too early, too late, speeding up the plans, etc…)?

87. When does the hero realize the inevitability of the outcome? Can an appeal be made to the antagonist's better nature?

88. Can the fear of shame or disgrace of losing one's face be used?

89. How did the circumstances change to make the outcome more weighty, impressive, convincing?

90. Does anybody admit the errors?

91. Does anybody plead, beg forgiveness, or confess?

92. Is anybody willing to give up?

93. Is anybody trying to escape?

94. Does anybody feel shame, disgrace, insecurity, betraying one's most cherished principles?

95. Does anybody feel terror stricken of being exposed?

96. Is there a rescue for any of the adversaries? Is this possible? For what price?

97. Is there a moment when a conscience stricken character realizes the consequences of their actions, sees themselves truly and rightly, and tries to stop the inevitable?

98. What is the last thing the main character finds out about?

99. What does "victory" mean after the whole story is over?

100. How should the viewer/audience feel when the story ends?