Motivation: Uta Hagen's Nine Questions

I’ve sure this has been mentioned in a previous post, but I actually trained prior during my undergraduate studies to be an actress. Essentially I needed to spend three years and a great deal of money to realize I would never as good an actress as I am a writer. Such is life, I suppose.

In my high school drama group, one of my directors liked for us to work with Uta Hagen’s Nine Questions. I have come to adore Hagen, in particular her meddling main in Reversal of Fortune (a movie I am fixated on for some reason). Her questions are excellent starting points for the actor or writer wishing to consider character:

  1. Who am I?
  2. What time is it?
  3. Where am I?
  4. What surrounds me?
  5. What are the given circumstances?
  6. What is my relationship?
  7. What do I want?
  8. What stands in my way?
  9. What do I do to get what I want?

While I have come to respect the deceptive simplicity of these questions, I’ll admit when I was thirteen, I spent a week loathing them as I tried to come up with answers for the character I was playing–Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother.

As I writer, I find these interesting things to consider for character work. The last three in particular are useful, both on the page and in my professional life.

Kurt Vonnegut said every character must want something, even if it is just a glass of water.

So what does your character want? Why can’t they have it now/ever? What are they going to do for that glass of water/job/acceptance/girl/victory? Sometimes I think we need to stop and reassess these fundamentals and not just for the protagonist.

Beyond that, what do you want in your career? What stands in your way? And finally, what can/will you do to get what you want? Those first two are probably the easiest to answer. I know for me it’s getting published and eventually being able to earn my living as a writer. Rejection, lack of time, and just odds stand in my way.

With the last question, that’s where things get more complicated. On the basic level, I need to write and submit. More than that, I need to continue to grow as a writer, which is a little less basic. It means reading and revising, working through creative droughts, and pushing myself. Beyond that, it means being self-aware and identifying new ways to get what I want.

So I toil forth, like so many others, because I love it too much not to.

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