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Playwriting Exercise: The Proust Questionnaire

If you’ve ever watched Inside the Actors Studio, or flipped to the back page of Vanity Fair you’re familiar in some form with The Proust Questionnaire. Marcel Proust did not create the questionnaire, but he did fill two different ones out – once when he was 13 and once when he was 20. The answers clearly reflected him at each age.

The Questionnaire can be used in two ways as a playwright. First, you can answer the questions yourself. Knowing who you are, what you believe, who you identify with, admire, what you treasure, these are all important self-reflection elements. If you know the specifics about yourself, you can give them to a character. You can give a character an opposing trait. By answering these questions about yourself, you’ll know where your interests lie. A great starting point for a play.

Secondly you can answer the questions for a character.  How well would you know the main character in your play is you answered all these questions? It would be impossible not to create a three dimensional human being. If you are stuck in a rut with your play, turn to this exercise.

The Proust Questionnaire

1. What is your greatest fear?
2. What is your current state of mind?
3. What is your favorite occupation?
4. What historical figure do you most identify with?
5. Which living person do you most admire?
6. Who is your favorite fictional hero?
7. Who are you real-life heroes?
8. What is your most treasured possession?
9. When and where were you happiest?
10. What is your most obvious characteristic?
11. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
12. What is the trait you most deplore in others?
13. What is your greatest extravagance?
14. What is your favorite journey?
15. What do you most dislike about your appearance?
16. What do you consider the most over-rated virtue?
17. On what occasion do you lie?
18. Which words or phrases do you most over-use?
19. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
20. What do you consider your greatest achievement?
21. Where would you like to live?
22. What is the quality you most admire in a man?
23. What is the quality you most admire in a woman?
24. What is it you most dislike?
25. What do you value most in you friends?
26. How would you like to die?
27. If you were to die and come back as a person or an animal, what do you think it would be?
28. If you could choose an object to come back as, what would you choose?
29. What is your motto, the words you live by or that mean a lot to you?
30. Who has been the greatest influence on you?

Click here for a PDF copy of the questionnaire.
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