Show of hands: who has taken Pottermore’s Patronus Test?
Show of hands: who has taken it multiple times because they don’t like any of their results? Well, as much as we love sorting ourselves into Houses, finding our wand size, make, and core, and, now, discovering what completely arbitrary creature will protect us from Dementors, it turns out the same techniques we use to insert ourselves into the world of Harry Potter can be used to flesh out our characters as well!
If you’re well-versed in the Harry Potter world, it can be tons of fun to imagine what your own original characters might do if let loose on the Hogwarts grounds. Lots of people sort their characters into the Hogwarts houses — the studious into Ravenclaw, the brave and reckless into Gryffindor, the ambitious into Slytherin, and the loyal and hard workers into Hufflepuff. But there’s so much more you can do beyond sticking an imaginary Sorting Hat onto your characters’ noggins.
Take a character from your WIP and see if you can answer the following questions about them. Writing down detailed responses, even expanding your answers into scenes, will help kick your creativity into overdrive, and might teach you something about your characters you hadn’t realized before!
Harry Potter Characterization Survey
1. What Hogwarts House would your character be in? What traits do they have that match the House perfectly, and what traits clash? Would the Sorting Hat decide their House immediately or hesitate?
What personality traits are most important for your protagonist’s characterization? Do they think problems through rationally (Ravenclaw), or do they launch headfirst into possibly reckless solutions (Gryffindor all the way.) Do they value fairness (A ‘Puff true and through!) or are they more focused on personal ambition? (Sounds like a Slytherin to me.)
2. What is their Patronus? What memories would they call upon to produce the spell?
Consider what a difficult time Harry has finding a happy enough memory to conjure a Patronus, and consider that his Patronus is a stag, a physical representation of his father’s protection.
3. What are their favorite classes at Hogwarts? What about their least favorite?
Would they value History of Magic, which examines the past and what we might learn from it, or are they the sort of person who puts great trust in Divination? Do they have the patience and skill for Potions, or do they prefer the rambunctious atmosphere of a Charms classroom? This question goes into the character’s personality, what they value most, and what kind of person they are — are they patient, a risk-taker, or a gal who loves yanking Mandrakes out of the earth and chopping them up into little pieces?
4. What would they smell in the Amortentia potion?
This powerful love potion replicates the aromas that most attract whoever happens to be sniffing it. What attracts them most? Smells of home and childhood? Scents reminiscent of their unrequited love?
5. What would be their Boggart? How would they make it comical in order to defeat it?
What does your character fear most in the whole world, and how can they break down that fear into something conquerable?
6. If they could, what memories would they store in a Pensieve?
Does your character have a past that plagues them? Are there specific moments in their life they might like to relive, reexamine, or simply pull out of their head?
7. What is their favorite spell to cast? What spell has always given them trouble?
Is your character a thief and a sneak who would benefit greatly from an Alohomora charm to unlatch locked doors? Or are they infinitely lazy and a great fan of Accio, to bring distant objects right into their hands? Do they talk behind other people’s backs? Muffliato might help them conceal their secret whisperings.
8. Which Deathly Hallow would they like to own?
Does your character want a powerful, unconquerable Elder Wand to do battle with? Or would they value the Resurrection Stone, with the ability to bring a lost loved one back from death? Or do they like the idea of being invisible, staying hidden, in which case they might prefer the Invisibility Cloak?
9. If they were to make a Horcrux, what object in their life holds special enough significance to become the vessel for their shattered soul?
(This questionnaire got dark rather quickly.) But, think about it! Tom Riddle sought representations of the Hogwarts Founders, because he had such a close connection to the school. Does your character have anything like that, an heirloom or an item of great personal, sentimental value? Do they have something in their lives they wish to protect at all costs, the destruction of which would bring them unendurable pain?
10. What does this character see when they look into the Mirror of Erised?
I’ve heard it said that you can tell a character is three-dimensional and well fleshed out if you can have a solid discussion about what they might see in the Mirror of Erised. This question gets down to the fundamental core of a character in a well written story — what is their motivation? What is their yearning? What is the one thing, above anything else, that they want out of life? If you know your character’s deepest desire, and if you communicate that desire clearly to the reader, then you know you’ve done your job.
This whole exercise can help you examine your characters psychologically, help you identify their strengths, weaknesses, what they triumph at, what they fail, what they yearn for, what they’re terrified of. Use that knowledge to build them better, more satisfying story arcs. Maybe your protagonist’s Boggart is a fear they need to face; or what they see in the Mirror of Erised is a wish they should spend the novel working to attain.
Have fun! And if you can think of anymore Harry Potter-related character questions, comment below! Also, feel free to use this post as a writing tag and answer the questions for YOUR characters!
An earlier version of this post was originally shared on my old blog, Christina Writes.