Discussion Questions Pt. 2: Characters

This is part two in an ongoing series about discussion questions. In the first post, I staked out the position that book groups will often succeed best when they write discussion questions for themselves instead of trying to use questions written by others. But which questions, then, are the most likely to result in a lively meeting?

Characters are always a good starting point. If the author is doing her or his job, it isn’t hard to talk about the people he or she has created and the decisions those characters make. We may empathize, we may be appalled, but it’s never hard to talk about good characters. Here are a few of the questions I like to ask about characters:

  • Do you identify with the protagonist/s? At what point in the book were you most caught up in their decisions?
  • Which secondary character did you like the best? The least? Why?
  • What’s the single most important decision or realization that the protagonist made during the course of the book?
  • Did you find character X believable? Would a real person have acted differently in situation Y?
  • What will happen to character X after the book is over?
  • Who would you cast in the different roles if this book was made into a film?
  • Did character X grow and change over the course of the novel? How?
  • Were some of the characters static types? If so, do you think the author made them so on purpose, or just failed to bring them to life? Could the static character be representative of a wider group or idea?
  • Which character is the most like you? How so?
  • Which character do you think is most like the author?
  • Did any of the characters remind you of anyone you know, of anyone famous, or of a character in another book?
  • If you could change one trait or action of character X, what would it be?

Just remember: If you can get your readers to either walk in the shoes of some of the book’s characters or to take a strong stance against some of their behaviors, you’ll probably have a good meeting. Sympathy, empathy, antipathy are all emotional pathways to becoming involved in the book.

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About the Author:

Neil Hollands is an Adult Services Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, where he specializes in readers’ advisory and collection development. He is the author of Read On . . . Fantasy Fiction (2007) and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups (2009).

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