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!

On Accomplishments and Regrets

Howdy, howdy!  A friend recently sent me a questionnaire she received from a career coach, so that I too could experience the equal parts torture and enlightenment (her words).  I fully admit that I’ve never been able to take things like this seriously.  My answers always range from sarcastic to literal (and occasionally both).  For instance, one of the questions is “what would you do if you knew you could not fail?”  My initial reaction was “Walk!  No, wait… telekinesis!  No… take over the world.  That’s my final answer.”  I mean, if I can’t fail, why not aim big?  But anyway, one of the questions actually managed to get to me: “What accomplishments must, in your opinion, occur during your lifetime so that you will consider your life to have been satisfying and well liveda life of few or no regrets?”  So, I thought I’d answer it here since I don’t know what else to ramble about today.

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If that’s not achievement enough, I don’t know what is.

I suppose this is the kind of question where people write down things like having kids or becoming a CEO of some big company or founding a charity or whatever, which are all  wonderful goals to have, but I don’t think they’re musts.  I actually don’t believe any accomplishment is a must in order to lead a fulfilling life.  For me, that kind of thinking is sad.  I mean, do I hope to publish a bunch of books and become a famous author?  Hell yes.  If I die tomorrow without achieving those goals, does that make my life any less well lived?  No.  I’ll be dead.  I won’t care about that kind of unfinished business.  So, why should I put that kind of pressure on myself while I’m alive?  If I fail, I fail.  It’ll be disappointing, but ultimately, it doesn’t make my whole life unsatisfying.

The accomplishment itself is just the reward at the end of a very long journey.  I believe that journey, with all its little setbacks as well as its forward momentum, is more important than being able to point at a finished project and say “look what I did!”  Don’t get me wrong, achieving a goal feels great, but when you look back at it, you remember the path you took to get there more than the moment of completion.  At least, I do.  As long as the good parts outweigh the bad and as long as I know I’m trying, then I consider my life a success whether I have anything to show for it or not.

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Success is awesome, but don’t forget the rest of this stuff.

As far as regrets go, I think they’re useless and that’s probably what bugged me the most about the question.  I’m not going to have a bunch of regrets simply because I fail to accomplish my goals.  If I’m trying my best, why would I regret that?  I suppose when most of the things you would change about your past are out of your control, it puts all potential regrets in perspective.  Are there things I wish I could’ve done differently?  Yeah.  Would I have actually done them differently?  No, because then I wouldn’t become the person I am now.  Plus, my experiences that led me to those decisions would be the same, so the likelihood of me making different choices even if I had a do-over are slim to none.  So why worry about it at all?  Regrets change nothing.

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Because Uta no Prince-sama.

I guess maybe I’m weird to not worry about big accomplishments.  Or maybe it’s part of the whole cripple privilege thing that I can focus on other things without people judging me and making me feel like I’m wrong (not that I’d care what they thought anyway).  Or maybe I just worry more about the every day stuff than I should.  But to me, being happy, enjoying life, and knowing that I’m trying my best are more important than actual success (not that accomplishments aren’t exciting and fulfilling).  What about you?  How would you answer the question?

An Odd Interview Question

Hello again!  Happy July!  I hope my fellow Americans had a safe and wonderful Independence Day.  I also hope all of my Canadian friends did the same on Canada Day.  Anyway, about a week ago, I was searching through some of my old files from my Eastfield (community college) days looking for a particular poem when I ran across a list of interview questions I had to create for one of my classes.  One of those questions brought back some memories.  The question was “If you could transform into any creature (real, mythical, extinct, or otherwise), what would it be and why?”  For some reason, it always seemed to make whoever I asked stop and really think hard.  Even the teacher remarked that it was an odd and creative question.  Which was weird, because it’s the type of thing that I think about all the time.  Maybe it was because I didn’t set up any rules (no time limit, no information on whether the change is permanent, etc.).  I left everything up to the person being asked.  Or maybe I’m just weird.  But I thought I’d take the chance to answer the question myself, since I never have before.

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Or maybe I just spend too much time on the Interwebz.  Though, my question is broader and approximately 10 years old, so yeah.

So, if I could transform into any creature (real, mythical, extinct, or otherwise), what would it be and why?  That one has always been a no-brainer for me.  Of course, I would be a mermaid.  The “why” is a little more complicated.  I mean, aside from the fact that they’re awesome and Ariel was nuts to give up her fins for a man, what other reasons do I need?  Fine, we can get personal I guess.

First, and contrary to popular opinion, I actually love water.  I miss being able to go swimming immensely, not that I could actually swim, it was more of a vertical doggie paddle.  But yeah, I liked being in water because it gave me much more control over my body (I could walk, and move my arms, and stretch beyond my comfort zone without having to worry about someone assisting me and pushing me too far/breaking something, etc.).  So, the attraction to water led to an early love of mermaids.  Then came the whole gills versus lungs thing.  My lungs suck, so gills became even more attractive as I got older.  But I swear my attraction to mermaids is mostly because they are magical and gorgeous and so fecking cool.

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One of Amy Brown’s mermaids.

It’s not like I want to be a mermaid all the time, though.  So, the power to switch back and forth would be a must.  At least in the beginning.  Who knows, I might enjoy exploring the sea so much that I eventually never want to come back.  Or I might hate it.  Either way, I want the option.  Maybe I’d have a limited number of swaps (like maybe five or something; always an odd number so I’d be forced to choose human on the fourth or whatever try, but always have that lingering option to go mermaid forever) to make things more exciting.  I should probably write about mermaids more often.  Story idea: cripple turns into mermaid.  Must eventually choose between life on land or at sea.  Adventures and peril abound.  I could totally write that.

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Art by NanFe.  Plus, mermaids can be super creepy!

What about you?  What creature would you choose?  Is it a no-brainer or do you have to think about it?  And yes, staying human is an option as long as you explain your reasoning.  It doesn’t have to be a deep, thoughtful reason either.  Go with your gut!

See you next week!