Making Friends With Character Questionnaires

Well, I have been searching and have found a number of articles that talk about character development and offer tips on creating realistic characters. Almost every one of them has ended with or been focused around these ‘character questionnaires’. Some have been interesting to look at, and others have been almost laughable, but what I find myself thinking is, do I need to complete a questionnaire for my character?

I know, I know, I set out to educate myself and have stopped to argue at the first hurdle. It just bugs me. I mean, as a writer, do we really know our characters before we start doing the dance of many syntax with them?

Look at meeting people in real life, for that is really what we are doing with characters when we start a brand new novel. We are meet them, we get to know them, and slowly they invade our every waking moment until their story is told.

Is it not dangerous to over develop a character and define them down to the name of their nursery school. Especially this early in the relationship. Where is the mystery, where is the intrigue.

Plotting out the chapters and a tight story outline I can understand, but even after just one day, I feel that over planning characters just isn’t for me. Maybe I am old-fashioned, but I like to get to know my characters as I write. I find a much better flow if the whole process is more of an exchange. I learn about them, and they in turn learn a little about me.

Out of all of the articles I read, the one I found the most enlightening was perhaps the most basic of them all. It spoke about how successful characters are three-dimensional, in just the same way the people are. The article itself you can read here. It is not groundbreaking, but after a day of nothing but questionnaires and prompts to fully breakdown the psyche of someone who for all intents and purposes and stranger to me, I found it something of a breath of fresh air.

With this in mind, I think I will start my story plotting, I will create the shadow and the man I hope will become a close friend over the coming months, and wait for nature to take its course and for the light to be shed.


10 thoughts on “Making Friends With Character Questionnaires

  1. This is a great post. I am much like you when it comes to developing characters and story. I may write out a general scope of each but the meat of it all generally unfolds as I write. I like for reactions to be natural; characters’ reaction to events as well as each other will differ depending on who is in the scene. Like, my mother won’t react to my house being set on fire the same way my wife will. And my reaction will be largely based on how they react; two completely different dialogues and point of view.

    The article is not bad, very to the point
    TY Sir.

  2. Interesting post. I like the way you view character development, and I agree that we discover our characters through telling their story. I like to think of character questionnaires as more of a list of things that you may want to ultimately learn about your character by the end of the story rather than a list you must fill out before starting to write their story. (Though depending on what their story is, it’s still possible that the name of the nursery school doesn’t matter — and part of writing, I think, is choosing what does matter). At the very least, I’d say that character questionnaires will probably go through a couple drafts to keep up with the character as he or she evolves.

    And as you said, over-defining your character too early on is definitely dangerous to the story as a whole. I personally don’t plot out my writing all the way, and it’s always in the moments my characters do or say something I didn’t intend that the writing seems to shine most, because I feel like that’s when it’s most honest. If the characters didn’t surprise me once in awhile, I’d be missing out on a crucial part of the writing process, the most spiritual part (or at least, I think so).

    Thanks for sharing this!

    1. Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment. It is most appreciated.
      I like the idea of using the questionnaire as you go. Kind of like a ‘my character is developed when I have 75% of these questions answered’
      Yes, the best part of writing is when your characters turn around and surprise you.

  3. Thank you, I am glad that you liked the post. As you have said character is brought to life by reactions, and not only do we react differently to situations depending on those around us, but do we ever really know how we ourselves would react to a situation – should we have never been faced with it before.

  4. I SO agree! As a reformed panster, I now outline the story, although I always knew the story arc and several pivotal scenes before I began, it keeps me on track. I understand those that need to know their characters intimately, but I think learning to know them as I write (okay they aren’t total strangers but have hidden attributes) simply works better for me. Example, one of my second tier characters in a series, became a first tier in the last book because research allowed me to give her a back story that not only suited the new WIP, but elevated. And I loved that it did.

  5. Great post! Reminds me of what Stephen King had to say about character development in his book: On Writing. A good story (and its characters) develop form within the author and story emerges bit by bit.

    Lots of good luck,

    1. Thanks Lois, that book is one I have been hoping to receive for every birthday and christmas I have had for years now, but nobody ever takes the hint. I can’t wait to read it one day. Thanks for commenting. I am glad you liked the post.

  6. Oh I so agree. I make notes of my characters attributes as I write, as I feel it is important to keep notes of little things that you may incorporate as you write and in term create a character ‘bible’ as you go. I will admit before even finishing my first draft my character feels fully developed. However, sometimes I will start with a character rather than a story, and thats when I will employ the techniques you speak of.

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