Character Questionnaires: Yes Or No?

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.

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Pretty sure this would be the reaction from my novel-in-progress’ main character and her bestie.

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.

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A completely acceptable reaction.

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.

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It’s totally procrastination.  Own 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!

Three Things Not To Say To A Writer

Hi again!  Lately, I’ve been seeing those lists of things that every writer supposedly hates to hear and decided to make my own.  It’s relatively short compared to the ten, fifteen, even thirty item lists I’ve noticed floating around.  This is mainly because 1) I don’t really pay much attention when I start to get annoyed by a conversation, and 2) people don’t generally ask me if I have a real job when told I’m a writer (I’m guessing that has something to do with the whole cripple thing, which I’m okay with), so I run into a lot less annoying people than the average writer.  So, here’s my very short list divided up into who shouldn’t be saying it.

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You wouldn’t be my first victim.

 1.  Publishers to writers (or any creative artists really) – “We won’t pay you, but you’ll definitely earn some exposure by being published here.”

If I wanted to work for exposure, I’d post my work on my blog.  I suppose that’s my “popular fiction” training talking.  We’re taught to start at the top (pro-paying publications) and work our way down (semi-pro, token, and as a last resort, exposure) until we receive an acceptance or run out of places to submit to, which makes sense to me.  Why not aim high?  The worst that can happen is a rejection.  I admit that I’ve submitted to non-paying things before, but they were special circumstances.  Even if I kind of understand it, I don’t really see the draw of “exposure.”  And I don’t know why we (creative artists) keep accepting it as if it’s a form of payment.

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This.

 2. Non-writers to writers – “You should write my life story! *proceeds in telling life story*”

Don’t get me wrong, there is probably some CNF writer somewhere who would be totally down for something like that, but I’m not that person.  Unless your life involves dragons or fairies or (literal, not figurative) demons, the chances of me writing about it are pretty slim.  So, maybe this one isn’t exactly a “don’t say it to any writer” thing as much as it is a “know your audience” type thing.  Ask us about the type of stuff we write, then if you’re actually interested in having your story told and that writer seems interested in telling it, go for it!  But, if it’s not something you’re truly interested in doing and/or the writer doesn’t write that type of stuff, it’s probably safer to not bring it up.

3.  Writer to writer – “You’re still working on that piece?”

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You really better be ill if you’re a writer and you’re asking me this.

 Yes, yes I am still working on that piece.  The question itself isn’t all that bad.  I don’t get bothered when non-writers ask it, because most people don’t understand what all goes into something like a novel or poem or short story.  But when a writer asks it, it comes across as rude.  I’m sorry I’m not as fast a writer as you.  I’m sorry I hold my work to higher standards.  Go worry about your own work and leave me to my process.

Those are my three big writerly pet peeves.  There are others, of course, but the annoyance levels all really depend on who says what when.  What are some questions or statements that grind on your writerly nerves?