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Writing Exercises – The Four Questions of Character


For your own story idea:

Identify your main character, and answer these four questions:

  • What does your character want?
  • Why does he/she want this?
  • What’s standing in his/her way?
  • What are the consequences of your character getting what he/she wants?

Brainstorm many possibilities for each question and mix and match your answers until you come up with a combination that you feel will give you a unique plot.


As practice, take your favorite children’s book for any age group and answer the four questions above. How do the answers affect the book’s plot?

Laura Backes

Laura is the founder and publisher of Children's Book Insider, and co-founder of Her work has appeared in Writer's Digest and The Writer magazines, as well as on numerous writing blogs. She's the technical editor of "Writing Children's Books for Dummies", and her book "Best Books for Kids Who (Think They) Hate to Read" is published by Random House. Through webinars, workshops, and online courses, Laura has taught thousands of children's book writers how to improve their craft .

5 Responses to “Writing Exercises – The Four Questions of Character”

  1. Debbie Carpenter

    Anne of Green Gables 
    What does the main character want?  Anne Shirley wants a home.
    Why?  She has no family and the families she stays with do not treat her kindly.
    What's in the way?  Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert want to adopt an orphan, but they want a boy to help with the farm chores.
    What are the consequences?  The Cuthberts love Anne and she is chosen to live with them and help Marilla with the housework.

  2. Vicky Bruere

    The 39 Clues

    1. What do the MC's want?
    Dan and his sister want to solve the 39 clues and find the ultimate family secret.
    2. Why do they want it?
    They want to solve the 39 clues and attain their ultimate goal for 2 reasons: i. their grandmother wanted them to take on the challenge and signs suggest she had been training them up or the challenge from an early age, ii. they see it as their only opportunity to escape having to live with their old miserable aunt.
    3. What's standing in their way?
    Little money; competitive family members from different branches of the family tree; poor knowledge of their family history and the 39 clues; only having a teenage babysitter as a chaperone.
    4. What are the consequences of them getting what they want?
    They aren't sure what is they're going to find…they only know that it would make them the most powerful  people in the world. Possible consequences are: it turns out that what they've been seeking is worthless; the power that comes with the prize makes them a target for trouble; the secret makes them rich and they can leave the care of their miserable aunt.

  3. Anne Stapleton

    what character wants and why? Though Jack is only 15 years old, he wants to move to the big city to pursue a singing career.

    What’s standing in his way? His parents want him to stay in their small town, finish high school; then attend divinity school.

    What are the consequences? Jack is angy with his parents. He feels they are holding him back and he has threatened to run away. His parents, on the other hand, think that the big city would change Jack and push him away from God.

    by Anne Stapleton

  4. Mary Nell Lopez

    What does the main character want and why? She wants someone to adopt her and take care of her. Her owner, who did everything for her, died all of a sudden and Minou was left alone to roam the streets of Paris. She has never been on her own and does not know how to take care of herself.

    What is standing in her way? She is a stray, living on the streets and no one seems to want to help her or take her home.

    What are the consequences of the main character getting what she wants? If she had her way someone would adopt her and she would go on being a cat who is totally dependent on a human being to survive, but this is not what happens in the story.

  5. lyla nutt

    I'm BAD – by Kate and Jim Mcmullan

    What does the main character (dinosaur) want? Food, and to appear powerful.

    Why does the he want this? He is hungry.

    What's standing in his way? He seems to believe that appearing scary and powerful will make up for his lack of skills in the hunting department. 

    What are the consequences?  The poor guy could starve to death!

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