Proust's Questions were not created by Proust. Answering questions intended to reveal character was a common activity in the 19th century. We call lists like these, Proust's Questions or Proust's Questionnaire because we have copies of Proust's answers at different times in his life.
When the questions are answered honestly, they do reveal a great deal about a person. When they are answered at different times, they show changes in a person as life progresses.
How To Use Proust's Questions
Proust's Questions and their answers reveal character. As such, they can help a writer in at least two ways.
- They hold a mirror to the writer. Each time I'm faced with the questionnaire, I get weak in the knees and my stomach feels odd. I take these physical reactions to be indicators that I am about to expose things I usually keep hidden. The more honestly I answer the questions, the better I know myself. All writers write from within. It behooves me to know the source of my material.
- They deepen our understanding of our characters. During a writing course I was asked to answer a version of the questions suitable for a child character. I was amazed at how the answers helped me to know my character better. What I came to know about him helped me to write with more confidence. It also gave me material to use in creating subplots. This was material I hadn't thought of earlier.
A List Of Proust's Questions
There is no definitive list of Proust questions. Proust answered at least two lists of questions in his day and this will account for some of the differences in the lists you will find if you do a Web search for Proust's Questionnaire.
Anyone can create a list of questions that will reveal inner realities. In one workshop for teachers and parents at our school, we were asked what vehicle we would choose to be and why. To this day, I keep coming back to that question and its answers. (Began with Volvo and later switched to Mercedes Benz when I realized I had unlimited funds. Both cars have great safety records, stand the test of time, and have quality without excess.)
Here is a list of questions I have compiled using one of the original lists Proust used and adding to it. Feel free to use it both for yourself and your characters.
- Your favorite virtue
- Your favorite qualities in a man
- Your favorite qualities in a woman
- Your chief characteristic
- What you appreciate most in your friends
- Your main fault
- Your favorite occupation
- Your idea of happiness
- When and where were you most happy
- Your idea of misery
- If not yourself, who would you be?
- Where would you like to live?
- Your favorite colour
- Your favorite flower
- Your favorite prose
- Your favorite poets
- Your favorite heros in fiction
- Your favorite heroines in fiction
- Your favorite painters and composers
- Your heroes in real life
- Your favorite heroines in real life
- Your favorite heroines in world history
- Your favorite food and drink
- Your favorite names
- What you hate the most
- World history characters you hate the most
- The military event you admire the most
- The reform you admire the most
- The natural talent you'd like to be gifted with
- How you wish to die
- What is your present state of mind?
- For what fault have you the most toleration?
- Your favorite motto
- What is your greatest fear?
- What historical figure do you most identify with?
- What is your most treasured possession?
- What is your greatest extravagance?
- What do you like most about your appearance?
- What do you most dislike about your appearance?
- If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
- What animal would you like to be? Why?
- What vehicle would you like to be? Why?
- What is your secret indulgence?
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