PROUST FOR PROTAGONISTS (AND ANTAGONISTS, TOO!)
- A CRAFT CHALLENGE -
Several months ago, I had the pleasure of participating in author Kristina Perez’s MADELEINE PROJECT, a series of blog posts in which she invites publishing industry pros to answer some of the questions in a self-interview popularized by Marcel Proust, which has become a staple in VANITY FAIR magazine.
You can peek at my answers here, but for today’s CRAFT CHALLENGE, I want you to do something more. I want you to ask your protagonist these questions. And then I want you to ask your antagonist.
So often, character questionnaires hone in on physical details, generalities of age, birthplace, socio-economic class. What interests me about the Proust questionnaire is that it digs into the heart and soul of a person, into his or her dreams, memories, and longings.
Proust famously shared the responses he gave to these questions at age thirteen and at age twenty-one. Consider how your character might answer these questions as a child and as an adult (or young adult). If your character is a young adult (or younger), consider how he or she might answer these questions at the beginning of the story and then again at the end. What changes in perspective arise from the journey he or she undertakes?
1. What is your idea of perfect happiness?
2. What is your greatest fear?
3. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
4. What is the trait you most deplore in others?
5. Which living person do you most admire?
6. What is your greatest extravagance?
7. What is your current state of mind?
8. What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
9. On what occasion do you lie?
10. What do you most dislike about your appearance?
11. Which living person do you most despise?
12. What is the quality you most like in a man?
13. What is the quality you most like in a woman?
14. Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
15. What or who is the greatest love of your life?
16. When and where were you happiest?
17. Which talent would you most like to have?
18. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
19. What do you consider your greatest achievement?
20. If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?
21. Where would you most like to live?
22. What is your most treasured possession?
23. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
24. What is your favorite occupation?
25. What is your most marked characteristic?
26. What do you most value in your friends?
27. Who are your favorite writers?
28. Who is your hero of fiction?
29. Which historical figure do you most identify with?
30. Who are your heroes in real life?
31. What are your favorite names?
32. What is it that you most dislike?
33. What is your greatest regret?
34. How would you like to die?
35. What is your motto?
As a bonus, Kristina’s survey included the question, “What is your Madeleine,” which refers to Proust’s childhood memories, triggered by the taste of a particular French pastry.
What triggers your protagonist’s memories of childhood? Your antagonist’s? Relax, and dig deep for answers that may not only give you new insight into your characters but guide you to unexpected places.
And if you’d care to share a few of your answers in the comments, we’d love to read them.
Happy Thanksgiving, all!