Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Jillian's Proust Questionnaire

Jillian Craig, ex-CIA agent, burned spy

I made a cardinal mistake when I first started writing the Overwatch series a year and a half ago. My lead female, suposed badass heroine, former CIA agent and munitions expert, Jillian Craig, was tragically boring.

I had no idea who Jillian Craig really was!

Sure, when I started, I had a glimmer, an idea of who/what I wanted but I really didn't know her. Everything that came out on the page felt hollow. She had no drive or motivations. She was going through the motions. And I hated her. Because I had no reason to like her. Or root for her. She was a badass shell with no soul. Who the hell wants to read about that?!

One day, I had a flash of inspiration. Not sure where it came from, but it was a cool, blue miracle. I decided that she needed to be likably unlikable. She needed to be a little vain, sleep around with rich Mediterranean men, and have PTSD because she did something REALLY bad that got her burned from the CIA. Oh, and she has an unquenchable shoe obsession.

A friend of mine had done a Proust-like questionnaire for her characters in her current WIP. Ding, ding... I decided to do one for Jillian... and then for David.

The Proust Questionnaire is a nineteenth century personality test developed by French novelist and essay writer, Marcel Proust. They didn't have a Cosmo Quiz back then to figure out what their thoughts and feelings were about life, so Proust made his own. It has stood the test of time and is still used today. My personal favorite is the slimmed down version on Inside the Actor's Studio that James Lipton asks his guests at the end of the interview. My favorite word in the English language is Fuck. It can be verb, noun, adjective, adverb etc... Again I digress...

So. This is Jillian's questionnaire:

·  Your most marked characteristic? I can be selfish and self-indulgent.

·  The quality you most like in a man? Loyalty, but if we’re talking just sex? Then tall, dark, rich and Mediterranean - French, Italian, Spanish, Greek - take your pick.

·  The quality you most like in a woman? I don’t have many women friends, I do much better with men.

·  What do you most value in your friends? Comfort.

·  What is your principle defect? That I’m searching for love and acceptance, serious Daddy issues.

·  What is your favorite occupation(way to spend time)? Shopping for shoes… it’s a pacifier/addiction. In that case, so is sex.

·  What is your dream of happiness? To be loved for who I am, evil parts and all.

·  What to your mind would be the greatest of misfortunes? To never had had the opportunity to get to know my father again, even though I hate him for abandoning my mother and me.

·  What would you like to be? Sometimes, anyone but me; or Katherine Hepburn, she was a ballsy woman.

·  In what country would you like to live? France, Italy, Spain, seeing a trend here?

·  What is your favorite color? Pink, don’t tell anyone.

·  What is your favorite flower? The little blue flowers on the side of the road, ironically they’re weeds.

·  What is your favorite bird? Birds annoy me.

·  Who are your favorite prose writers? It’s shameful… I don’t have the patience to read.

·  Who are your favorite poets? Same as above.

·  Who is your favorite hero of fiction? Han Solo, hot and rakish, boyish smirk with a swagger and a sense of humor. Reminds me a little of someone I know.

·  Who are your favorite heroines of fiction? Wow, I really need to hand in my feminist membership card… is it wrong to not be able to think of a single one?

·  Who are your favorite composers? Once I heard David listen to Turandot, it freakin' made me cry. I think I was premenstrual.

·  Who are your favorite painters? A saw little painting done by a street vendor once in Cairo, simple and elegant, but I couldn’t buy it because I was undercover.

·  Who are your heroes in real life? Colonel Vaughn and the guys on my team.

·  Who are your favorite heroines of history? Women of the Isreali army, those women are fearless.

·  What are your favorite names? Fifi LaFlame, its has a je ne sais qua…

·  What is it you most dislike? Men who abuse women and children.

·  What historical figures do you most despise? Hitler, Hussein, Quadafi

·  What event in military history do you most admire? When women were given the right to fly in combat missions.

·  What reform do you most admire? Women who are standing up against female circumcision in Africa.

·  What natural gift would you most like to possess? The ability to lift a man over my shoulder.

·  How would you like to die? Saving someone’s life.

·  What is your present state of mind? I’m bored.

·  To what faults do you feel most indulgent? My weakness for shoes.

·  What is your motto? When sad, buy shoes.

After doing this, with my new knowledge of the PTSD and the tendency toward self-indulgence, the answers came out fast. She became more well-rounded. She had depth. I finally felt like I had an idea of who this woman was. And the story grew in richness because of it.

If you're struggling with who your character is personality wise, try this. And don't be afraid to go to a place that you think people might not like. People have flaws and weaknesses and do bad things, sometimes with good intentions. Badass females have these in spades.

Go forth and question!


  1. Hey, it's the Proust questionnaire! I'm glad that you were able to use this for your characters - it's a good way of figuring out what their motivations are, exactly. I feel like Jillian's responses is definitely "her," at her best, and I hope that she grows more as the rest of the series develops.

    Some of the character-development tools that have helped me with my writing comes from screenwriting sites, such as Save The Cat! and the Tennessee Screenwriting Association; they're good at working out the kinks in terms of plot and motivation. The Proust questionnaire, however, is still the grand-daddy of them all, and it's well-recommended.

  2. Yes, I'm so glad that you recommended it to me. I was struggling and it seemed like the light bulb went on as I was answering those questions. She filled out and came to life and I could hear her voice in my head. She will definitely grow as the series moves along. There are a lot of life events that come into play.

    I have heard of the Save the Cat series but I will go back to look at it and check out the other one too. Thanks!