Exercise: Ten Questions

Sometimes, you have a character (or other story element or feature) who just isn’t coming through. Sometimes, you have a person—in your audience, in your game group, wherever—whose take on what you’re doing you just can’t figure out. And sometimes, you can get these two things to cancel out.

In some order, choose yourself a character (or a piece of the setting, or a plotline, or the like—anything that needs further fleshing. We’ll use character for the sake of being concise) and a person you know. The character doesn’t need to be detailed too far, but it helps to have at least a skeleton, and to choose one you’d feel confident improvising facts about; the person, on the other hand, should have enough of a sense of the character and its context to be able to ask decent questions—and hopefully, shouldn’t have a problem with either asking or answering questions. It doesn’t really matter what order you choose them in, just that both these traits are satisfied. And yes, ‘people’ as opposed to a person can work, though if you like chasing recursive whys, they might be less satisfying for later parts of the exercise.

Got them both?

Now, ask the person to ask you ten questions about the character. These can be simultaneous, all of them generated at once, or they can be sequential, giving the person the option of deriving a question from the answer to the previous question (the latter is better if your exercise partner is a bit intimidated by coming up with that many questions, if you want to be able to cut off a certain line of questioning, or if you want a chance at getting extremely deep into one or two details rather than having only a few shallow ones and think your exercise partner is going to springboard off of your answers).

Once you’ve got the questions, answer them. This, needless to say, develops the character to a certain degree—or, if you really don’t think you can answer the questions, lets you know where you’re having problems with development. (If you’re dealing with a situation where you’re keeping some information back for whatever reason, you may want to pre-plan an exception for questions that would serve as spoilers. As an added bonus, you might be able to learn a bit about how your exercise partner views the character (or the world) by looking at what kinds of questions he asks.

That doesn’t have to be all. If your partner’s willing, you can consider counter-questioning each of those questions; this would definitely be more an understand your partner thing than an understand your character thing, but it’s still effective and potentially interesting. “Why all the backstory before this certain point? Why weren’t there any “Why” questions? Which of these was more important to you? Were you planning on asking this question before I told you why she’d want a bat rather than a horse?”

Along with the questions and answers, it’s a good time-waster; a sufficiently interested questioner and respondent can get an hour or two of conversation out of it and probably move on into a few nifty revelations.

1 comment

  1. UZ says:

    So I have some questions! Unrelated, sadly, not much of a segue that, but I would like some advice.

    There are manners that are good and there are manners that are overdone; most of us have known someone who will only eat a chocolate bar with a knife and fork in a grotesque parody of realistic table manners. I want to use these sorts of examples to characterize two contrasting societies with manners that are equally annoying but realistic in both cases.

    So for example, one society is an urban one living in necessarily limited space so everything is crowded. In this one, it’s polite to cover your face with your arm when eating in public, since it’s not polite to chew in anyone’s face and in this world you’re always in someone’s face at any given time. (Yes I do know people who do this and I hate it, which is why I’m including it.)

    By contrast, other society is a sparsely populated one and getting in people’s faces is not discouraged because everyone is lonely and depressed. After standing solitary lookout in the ever-falling rain for a month and a half, the sound of someone chewing in your ear is like an impossible fantasy of socializing and so people frequently gravitate to one another to assuage their lonely feelings.

    See, either of these would be annoying, but I want to illustrate the two extremes so that I don’t make one situation look like my preferred one when they’re actually both supposed to be uncomfortable and numbing.

    So, help me out if you have any ideas! Semi-legit “mannerly” behaviour that is nonetheless irritating.

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