Howdy, howdy! While I was searching for something writerly to blog about, I kept coming across ideas for character questionnaires (getting to know your characters, things to know about your character before you start writing, etc.). The questions varied from basic stuff about looks and personality to weird things like “what’s in their fridge right now?” (the main character of my novel-in-progress currently has pizza, coffee creamer, and pouches of blood in her mini fridge, in case you were wondering). And, at first, this seemed like a really neat idea, until I came across a list of 1,000 questions I was supposed to know answers to for my characters. Yes, three zeroes. It seemed pretty excessive to me. I started to wonder when something like that went from a useful tool to being something to procrastinate with.
I just feel like there are things you should naturally know about your characters before you start writing, even without a questionnaire. Name/nickname, the basics of how they look, main personality type, any distinguishing features. For me, these are all things that come naturally with the voices in my head. I don’t need to write them down, because I know them. Occasionally, I’ll make a conscious decision to change an eye color or hair color if I have too many blue eyed blondes or whatever, in which case writing it down somewhere is helpful. But all the questionnaires that start off with these things feel more like a way to procrastinate than anything useful. On the other hand, if you’re the type of writer who works on multiple projects at once, I can see how you might mix up characters without having some kind of reference sheet.
Then, there’s the group of questions about character motivations which seems a lot more helpful to me. Knowing why your characters do things helps when you’re writing and trying to decide how they’ll react to different scenarios. It makes writing believable scenes easier. Say your main character freaks out when their roommate pulls out a sword in a non-threatening manner. Why? Well, if you know they witnessed their sibling getting stabbed, you can hint at that or build around it even if the reader doesn’t know it yet. Something less severe: why does your main character throw a tantrum every time her boyfriend steals her Oreos even though she’s a grown woman? Maybe her siblings always ate all the cookies when she was a kid. If you know their motivation, you can figure out how they’ll handle things realistically.
Last, they have the really out there questions. The “what’s in the fridge” and “favorite sex positions” types of things. These are the ones that I’m almost positive people answer to feel productive, but they’re really just procrastinating. I don’t think my character’s preference for red Gatorade over blue has any impact on my story, unless there are monsters in the Gatorade, then maybe. These are the questions that are fun if you’re having trouble writing one day and are hoping answering them will spark something. Otherwise, you’re just goofing off. And that’s okay! I understand the desire to put things off, but don’t lie to yourself about it.
Overall, I don’t find character questionnaires that helpful. They’re fun and something to do if I’m stuck or really don’t feel like writing, but, honestly, I’d rather just write most of the time. What about you? Do you fill out character questionnaires wen you create your characters? What are some questions you find the most useful? Which ones do you ignore or consider unhelpful? Feel free to comment here or on my social media pages!