Monday, September 16, 2013

Character Questionnaire, revisited

Last year,  I posted briefly about using a character questionnaire, to ensure you knew your characters.

This is the kind of thing I think about a lot. Other authors/writers/creators do as well, I know it. I know (and of course I can't find it), that I saw Jeph Jacques of Questionable Content post that he had, in fact, worked out things like how much the baristas at Coffee of Doom make. But the reader doesn't need to know that.

This is an important consideration, I think, one I've kept in mind through editing Learn to Howl  and The Wolf You Feed these past couple of weeks. What does the reader need to know? What needs to be spelled out? What can one assume the reader knows?

Assumptions about what the reader knows can be a big problem for me. It's one thing if I make a literary reference nobody notices, because the sentence still makes sense. It's another thing entirely if I use a term not many people know, and go on at length assuming that everybody knows it.

But I digress.

Over at the Office of Letters and Light, they've posted The Official NaNoWriMo Character Questionnaire as part of their NaNo prep series. Since I did not post an actual questionnaire in my first post, rather assuming that people would write their own, I think it's both interesting and useful to look at somebody else's. Does it cover the bases?

As an example, it might be pertinent to know your characters' favorite band, or if they have a favorite band, especially if any of them fancy themselves a musician. With that in mind, thinking of the character's "theme song" (or even having a play list for the novel) is a further way to bulk up that snowball and keep it rolling. From there, if you're picking three words or so to describe that character, are their song lyrics that apply? What does the song as a whole evoke?

I write to music a whole lot. I think I reference it more often than intended, as well (other than in The Last Song; I wanted that baby to be chock-full-of music references). While I can't claim to do a questionnaire, officially, about every character I write, I'm confident I can answer the questions about my main characters. It would probably be a nice "stretch my legs" style of writing exercise to riff about somebody's favorite memory or their superstitions, and keep it in the "junk file" to add in at an opportune time.


  1. I generally do a fairly long work-up on each of the main characters. I like to do a complete bio of their life up to the point where the novel begins. It's a kind of 'what happened to them to make them the people they are now' sort of thing. It's fun and in the process I get to know them really well.

    1. yes, it is fun! I think I left my thought on that out, huh? ;) As it is, I pop quiz myself sometimes: "What would ____ think of this?" etc.