Questionnaires

There are a lot of character questionnaire on the internet, many boldly stating that they are the ultimate. What I’ve discovered the generally means, is the more questions there are, the better the questionnaire must be.

I don’t think this is true. I mean, if you’ve got a character in mind for this questionnaire, I’m going to assume you already know their name, age, gender, and hair/eye color. Most of the time, by the time I get to questions like, What is your character’s main mode of transportation? What is your character’s favourite color/food/music/etc? Does your character have a pet? At this point, I’m kind of done with the questionnaire.

These aren’t questions that are pertinent to developing my character. I’m not saying it might be a good idea to know these things, but especially if you’re using this questionnaire to try and develop your character before you’ve started writing the story, they aren’t the kind of questions you need to answer. Don’t worry about the personality questions. You figure out your character’s personality by how s/he interacts with other characters, so it’s not a bad thing to wait until you’ve started writing to figure this out. Have an idea in mind; shy, loud, sarcastic. Have a basis for your character’s personality, but wait to flesh it out until you’re writing. A lot of times I find my character’s have ideas of their own.

What was your character’s childhood like? This is a question I used to skip over, but I think it’s actually an important one. Understanding how your character grew up helps you understand how and why your character will react to things in certain ways. It’s okay to figure out your character’s childhood while you’re writing, but you need to have an idea, even if it’s just that you know they were poor growing up.

This is where my point of general questions not being important comes up. The best questionnaire I have ever seen, had exactly two questions, and I’m going to use them here and elaborate a little. So here goes – the following two questions are arguably the most important questions to be able to answer.

What would your character die for? In a lot of cases, this what might be a who. Parents who are willing to die for their children – but are they willing to die for a child they don’t know? Would you die to protect your family? Your friends? Would you die for a complete stranger? Don’t tie yourself to physical things like people or money. Would your character die for an idea? For her religion? For freedom? For equal rights?

I don’t want to take credit for these questions, which is why I’ve linked the original post, but I think they’re really important questions. This first one shows what matters most to your character. In most books, the reason we don’t like the villain is because he’ll let anyone die, and we love the protagonist because he’s willing to die for strangers. The more items you have on your list, generally, the better person the reader thinks you are. But what if the idea your character would die for is bad.

Who would your character kill (and under what circumstances)? In many ways, this is a harder question to answer, but it’s still important. What your character would die for is often the same thing they would kill for, but not always. Would they kill to protect what they would die for? I’m not sure I could kill anyone (unless it was self defense).

Generally we’re going to hate the villain because he’s willing to destroy masses of innocent people and he doesn’t care, which brings me to another question. How would killing someone affect your character? Has your character ever killed before? As I mentioned in my post about fighting, most people don’t enjoy hurting other people. Taking another person’s life is worse.

Try not to confine yourself the the questions on the questionnaires you find. If you have a shy character, what would bring them to speak up? What are your characters mental and physical breaking points? A lot of the questionnaires I see ask physical questions, but your character’s personality is what people care about when they’re reading. These three questions are ones I think are important when figuring out what kind of person your character is.

-Aivee

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