7 Questions: A Writing Exercise to Make Your Characters Breathe

Let me preface this by saying that I sure as shit did not come up with this exercise. I saw it on Tumblr and immediately knew that I had to do it for both Em and May (my protags from “The Star and the Ocean” for anyone not reading it).

My dear friend and fellow writer (of the sexy adult variety, wink wink) Athena had recommended that I build character profiles for the girls to help me keep them consistent as I write. Initially I didn’t think much of the idea; after all, I spend SO MUCH TIME thinking about them that I couldn’t imagine that I’d need any aids to help me see them as fuller, more fleshed out characters.

But writing is nothing if not a completely humbling experience and now I find myself jumping at the chance to build any sort of profiles for my characters, especially the girls. I loved the way the OP for this exercise described being able to know your characters so well that, “they start to breathe”. I want to know them that well.

Em and May - art by @livielightyear

Em and May – art by @livielightyear

So, for the curious, I’ve included Em and May’s 7 questions under the cut (caution: they’re a little spoilery!) They’re a bit long but the exercises were a LOT of fun to write.

If you have OCs of your own and you do the exercise for them, let me know because I want to read your answers!


Primary drive

Em is most concerned with finding a purpose. After being given a second shot at life (albeit not one she wanted and certainly not the way she could have anticipated) she finds herself drifting and alone. Although initially she is devastated by the fact that she can’t return to her old life in any way, she eventually realizes that she actually doesn’t want to, leaving her with a void that needs to be filled. She accepts that this is her opportunity to live life by her own rules for a change – even possibly a “normal” life – and she comes to want nothing more than to shake off her past and carve a place for herself in the world on her own terms.

Fear: Major and secondary

Despite being conflicted about her feelings about abandoning her past, Em’s biggest fear is getting pulled back into the conflict that forced her to start over in the first place. She also secretly fears what would happen to her/what good she would be if she ever lost her abilities.

Her other fears include having to rely too much on other people, enclosed spaces, hospitals and deep sea creatures.

Physical desires

While her abilities offer her the perception of being strong, Em desires true physical strength. This is in part because she worries about what would become of her if she ever somehow lost those abilities but also because having them (and also having spent some time lacking a temporal form) sometimes makes her forget her physicality. She loves how it feels to physically affect the world around her as much as she enjoys being able to manipulate its energy.

Em’s love of her physicality causes her to greatly enjoy contact with other people. Although she does not necessarily seek it out, when she receives positive consensual contact or affection from another person, it electrifies her.

Em is bisexual (an “equal opportunity lover” by her own description) and for her, sex is a very visceral experience. She devours the connection between herself and her lovers hungrily; with seemingly reckless abandon.

Style of self expression

One of the first things people notice about Em is the stark distinction between her ethereal appearance and her brash personality. She’s not mean or cruel, but she swears like it’s her first language, is blunt to the point of being awkward, and always says what she means. She tends to come across as aloof, relaxed and generally unconcerned. She likes to make jokes and go off on tangents. When not engaged in conversation (she is unperturbed by awkward or long drawn-out pauses) Em is quietly observing what’s going on around her.

Em’s style is function over form and her gender expression is lazy at best. She wears what works, rarely playing to her physical assets. In her mind she is bigger than she actually is.

How they express affection

Despite enjoying – even sometimes craving – physical contact, Em is very attuned to the vibes of those around her. She rarely offers up affection first around people she’s unfamiliar with and tries very hard respect personal space.

That said, once she gets to know a person she becomes very physical; wrestling with them, hugging and leaning on people she knows well are some of the trademarks of her friendship.

And while she may not necessarily be forthcoming with physical contact, she is incredibly generous with praise and kind words. She is always searching – almost to the point of frustration – for the vocabulary to express just how much people mean to her. It is very important to her that people understand the depth of her feelings for them.

What controls them/What they are weak for

Even against better judgement, Em is a slave to doing the right thing. She cannot stand by idly in the face of injustice and, even though most people exhaust her and try her patience, she would have an incredibly difficult time turning her back on someone in need.

As their relationship evolves, May also becomes a primary focus as Em comes to be completely dedicated to her. There is virtually nothing that May could ask of Em that she would not do, and May’s happiness and well-being becomes Em’s priority.

What part of them will change

Eventually Em will be forced to face her past. She will have to let go of her flight response and take some responsibility for the hurt she left behind her. The ordeal will inevitably leave her humbled, and it will force her to learn how to trust in other people.


Primary drive

May is particularly driven by a deep-seated desire to be accepted. First having grown-up abandoned by mainland parents and adopted in an island village that isn’t keen to let strangers in, then having been ostracised after getting caught up in a scandal, she only wanted to feel like she is part of something. This said, there is a small, quiet part of her that wants to be self-sufficient and follow her own dreams

Fear: Major and secondary

In line with her primary drive, May is afraid of spending her whole life alone and unwanted. Despite the part of her that wants to be self-sufficient and follow her own dreams, circumstances have made her fearful of what will happen to her if she steps out of line. In turn she is also quite afraid of disappointing the handful of people she feels actually care about her.

Other, somewhat less all-consuming fears include being alone with men, getting/being physically lost, and heights.

Physical desires

May loves to feel capable. She likes to learn and try new things, especially those which challenge her physically. In a way this is her way of reclaiming her body and sense of self. But, while she is also small in body and seemingly delicate, she harbours great strength and ability thanks to time she has spent carefully honing physical skills such as dancing. The more that she is able to do, the more in control she feels.

Past trauma has left May with complicated feelings toward physicality. While intimacy frightens her, she also craves it. May has always been both romantically and sexually attracted to women, and when she is finally able to be with someone who nurtures her pace and encourages her to take control of her own desires, she embraces sex and that physical connection desperately and passionately. Be it personal preference, a symptom of trauma or a combination of both, May usually needs her sexual encounters to be intense.

Style of self expression

May is a character of oppositions: where she is quiet and awkward in person she is vivacious on stage, where she is behaved in public she harbours a secret desire to fly in the face of tradition, and where she appears outwardly demure she is privately uninhibited and demanding.

In her language she is polite, never swears, and is generally soft spoken until she is either excited or comfortable, in which case she starts to speak quite quickly. In much the same way, she tends to keep tightly to herself, taking up as little room as possible, until she is in a place or around people with whom she can relax. Then she is animated and full of wonder and curiosity.

Gentle, cautious, but full of potential, May is the type of person who only needs focus and a bit of encouragement to achieve great things.

May dresses her petite and slight frame in soft colours and feminine styles. She is, as Em comes to describe her, much like a doe: wide-eyed, lithe and graceful (unless, of course, she’s nervous).

How they express affection

Scorned and wary as she may be, May cares deeply for those close to her. She dotes lovingly on her family, particularly her nephew (she loves children), and she is the sort of person who bends over backwards to make someone else comfortable and happy.

May lives for affection – as long as it’s with the right person. She touches, she cuddles and she hugs. She likes to hold hands and sit close.

As their relationship progresses, May delights in being close and affectionate with Em, which works just fine for the other.

What controls them/What they are weak for

May is deeply controlled by the fear she has over in her potential to disappoint others. For many years, this fear controls her completely. But at the same time, she is curious and restless, and despite her attempts to fit in and do as she’s told, she is always lured by the possibility of something more.

She is also someone who is weak for acceptance. When she inevitably finds this in Em – not just tolerance but true acceptance of who she is as a person, her idiosyncrasies included – she falls for and becomes very devoted to her.

What part of them will change

May will experience a great deal of personal growth throughout the course of this story. The biggest part of her personality that will change is her sense of self-worth. She will develop a stronger will and become more self-reliant as she lives and endures through the challenges ahead.

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