Weekly Writing Exercise: The Proust Questionnaire

Weekly Writing Exercise: The Proust Questionnaire

It was a parlor game in which a person would pass around a list of questions for friends to answer, and then treasure the pages in years to come, similar to the way high school students circulate yearbooks today.  The questions, as well as Proust’s tender, sometimes humorous answers, have survived for well over a century, and you can view the original Proust Questionnaire (with questions in English and Proust’s answers in French) online.

You can use The Proust Questionnaire as a writing exercise to delve more thoroughly into your characters, to get to know them more intimately & profoundly.  You may not use these new revelations specifically, but instead, let them inform the your understanding of a character’s motivations, her likes and dislikes, her yearnings and fears.  The usual questionnaire has changed a bit over the years, but in any form, it’s a wonderful way to get to know your characters deeply.

Choose a character from a work in progress, and determine how they might respond to each question.  Remember, though, that your character may have different answers depending on whom s/he thinks will be reading it.

Proust’s Questionnaire

  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?

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