A couple of weeks ago, I watched the 2015 Disney/Pixar film Inside Out with my parents. I really enjoyed it, because not only was it poignant and realistic in terms of emotions and feelings, it was also incredibly funny at parts. But one of the things that interested me the most was how they talked about memories. It’s clear to anyone that a person’s memories can define who they are, but if you look at this from a writer’s perspective, you can gain even more insight into your characters. So keeping that in mind, here are some questions you can ask your characters:
What are their core memories?
In the film, all of the emotions live their “headquarters in” the main character, Riley’s, brain. All the memories are in different balls and labelled with different colors to identify the strongest emotion attached to them, and some of them—the most important memories, called the core memories— are in a special case. These memories are the ones that define who Riley is. So my question to you is what are your character’s core memories? What are the memories that have shaped who they are at the time of your story?
What are their “islands”?
Other memories that define Riley’s personality create “islands”, like Hockey Island, Goofball Island, and so on. What are your character’s islands? That is, what are their most cherished interests and hobbies? Are they really involved with their family? Friends? Are they into any sports? Play any instruments?
What could make them lose those islands?
Without going into too much detail (and giving away too many spoilers!), things happen in the movie that cause Riley’s personality islands to fall apart. What was it that made some of your character’s islands fall apart? Were those islands ever built back up again?
What would happen if they lost their core memories?
In Inside Out, Riley loses her core memories, and this causes her to go through a personality 360. She changes entirely, going from a happy-go-lucky, friendly kid to someone withdrawn and sad. If this happened to your character, how would they react?
By the end of your manuscript, how have their core memories and personality islands changed?
That is, have they lost core memories? Did they regain them, or make new ones? What about islands? Are there any new ones?
What other questions do you ask your characters based on their memories?
(Also, late disclaimer: I don’t own Inside Out. That right belongs to Pixar and Disney.