The Bernard Pivot Questionnaire: 10 Character Questions

Creating deep characters means asking big questions. One of the best ways to get to know your characters well is by using the Bernard Pivot Questionnaire. You can pretend you’re a famous interviewer as you discover the likes and dislikes of your heroes and villains.

In this article, you’ll learn what the Bernard Pivot Questionnaire is  — and how Plottr’s character template based on these questions will help you brainstorm fully realized characters.

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What is the Bernard Pivot Questionnaire?

This now-famous questionnaire was used by French journalist Bernard Pivot on his program Bouillon de Culture, which aired in France from 1991 to 2001. Its ten questions are based on the Proust Questionnaire, named after the French writer Marcel Proust who popularized it.

Viewers loved getting to know Bernard’s guests by hearing their answers to his unique questions. You may also recognize a version of this questionnaire that was famously used by James Lipton on Inside the Actors Studio. (There’s a Plottr character template for that one, too!)

In short, this questionnaire really gets around! Must mean it’s pretty useful, right?

Why Do Writers Love the Bernard Pivot Questionnaire?

For many writers (especially those who have journalistic experience), using a questionnaire to interview characters is a no-brainer. It’s a fast way to add layers to your cast and uncover new ideas about their desires, drives, and personalities.

Even if you’ve never conducted a formal interview in your life, the Bernard Pivot Questionnaire is a useful characterization tool. Here are some reasons you’re sure to love it:

  1. Unexpected questions. The questionnaire is designed to reveal who someone truly is. Rather than conventional interview questions, it includes some that go deeper.
  2. Surprising answers. Once you have a character in mind, they may easily be able to answer a question about their favorite book. But what about their favorite curse word? A profession they’d never dream of taking up?
  3. It helps create three-dimensional characters. Readers love to feel like your cast could walk off the page. Filling out this questionnaire as though interviewing your character will help you figure out who they really are deep inside.
  4. It helps differentiate characters. Taking the questionnaire as different characters in your story will help to ensure your characters are not too similar. How would Gemma answer totally differently from Tommy, and why?

This questionnaire gives you the ability to peel back the onion-like layers of each character to see what makes them tick. The result? More vibrant, engrossing storytelling.

Meet Plottr’s Bernard Pivot Questionnaire Character Template

The Bernard Pivot Questionnaire includes 10 questions to get your character creation neurons firing. Read each question, jot down your answers, and keep them handy for reference as you continue to flesh out characters and write your story.

Here are the questions you’ll see in the template, along with some prompts on how answers might reveal something fascinating about your characters:

  1. What is your favorite word? If your heroine answers “fun,” why? Is it because she had strict parents as a child and wasn’t allowed to have fun?
  2. What is your least favorite word? Is it “moist,” a word many people dislike? Or is it something more personal, like “camping,” because she got lost during a camping trip once?
  3. What is your favorite drug? If your character answers “Valium,” is it because they have crippling anxiety and self-medicate? Where does that come from?
  4. If you were reincarnated as some other plant or animal, what would it be? Maybe they say “puppy” because they want to be loved.
  5. What sound or noise do you hate? Is it the sound of a screen door opening because they associate it with an abusive parent coming home at the end of the day?
  6. Who would you like to see on a new banknote? You can showcase their fun- or Country-loving personality by having them say “Dolly Parton.”
  7. What sound or noise do you love? Calliope music could remind your hero of wonderful childhood summers at their grandparents’ riverside farm, where they would listen to the music played by passing paddle-wheelers.
  8. What is your favorite curse word? Non-answers may be an option for these, too. For example, if your character is conservative, they might not like cursing at all.
  9. What profession other than your own would you not like to attempt? If they say “Broadway star,” that might reveal that they are shy and do not enjoy the being in the spotlight.
  10. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? Pondering this question might make your character realize they’re on the wrong path and need to change.

Example Using the Plottr Bernard Pivot Character Template

Now that you have a good idea of the insights into characters you’ll find using the Bernard Pivot Questionnaire, let’s look at an example.

Our character, Susan, is a successful CEO. You could try answering in the first person, as your character:

  • What is your favorite word? “Success,” because I grew up poor and never had the things I wanted or needed
  • What is your least favorite word? “Lazy,” because both of my parents were lazy alcoholics. It made my childhood hard
  • What is your favorite drug? Drugs are for the weak, I don’t need drugs. I exercise a lot to keep healthy, though
  • If you were reincarnated as some other plant or animal, what would it be? I’d be the same person, just with different parents
  • What sound or noise do you hate? Slurred speech or the clinking of glasses
  • Who would you like to see on a new banknote? Nobody. No one is perfect enough to get that type of honor
  • What sound or noise do you love? Wind in the trees or water flowing over rocks in a creek. Peaceful sounds. They remind me of a park near my childhood home I’d go to whenever mom and dad were fighting
  • What is your favorite curse word? I hardly ever curse because I seldom lose control of myself. Cursing is a sign of a weak vocabulary
  • What profession other than your own would you not like to attempt? Park ranger … I’m surprised I said that. I guess I’ve always wanted to do something outdoorsy, but it didn’t seem like it would create much security
  • If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? “You’re a good person.” I try to do good by my parents’ cruel words often come back to me and sometimes the stress of my responsibilities gets to me

By the end of that interview, you likely can start to see Susan coming to life. Try it now. It’ll have the same effect on your characters.

How to Use Plottr’s Bernard Pivot Questionnaire Character Template

Ready to start your interview? Make sure you’ve signed up for Plottr or started a free trial so you can jump in.

When you have Plottr set up on your computer, follow these easy steps to add this template to a character profile:

  • Step 1: Open Plottr and either start a new project or open an existing one

Use Bernard Pivot Questionnaire Character Template with Plottr Step 1

  • Step 2: Once the project is open, navigate to the Characters tab and create a new character (or edit an existing one) by hitting the + button next to Characters on the left of your screen. Click +Add Template and select Bernard Pivot Questionnaire from the template menu

Use Bernard Pivot Questionnaire Character Template with Plottr Step 2

  • Step 3: Click the orange Choose button. This will apply the template to the character you’re working on

Bernard Pivot Questionnaire Character Template in Plottr

  • Step 4: Start writing! You can use the text boxes to fill in the details as you sit with your character and explore his or her answers

And that’s all there is to it! If you want to explore further, you can add other templates to your character’s profile, too. The Bernard Pivot Questionnaire pairs well with these other templates in Plottr:

Go Forth and Ask Everything

So now that you know what interesting things you can learn about your characters using Bernard Pivot’s Questionnaire, give this character template a whirl. Don’t have Plottr yet? Sign up for a free trial now. 

After you’ve tried the template out, leave us a comment about how it’s helping your characterization work. We’d love to hear from you.

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