Checklist or No Checklist? Try this Questionnaire

IMG_4045Hi Everybody,

As promised, here is the ‘Extremely-Useful-and Not-To-Be-Missed Checklist’ that I was telling you about in my last post. I hope it will help you to discover some great characters.

A quick reminder:
Just to recap, this particular checklist is of the questionnaire type, with thirteen questions for you to direct at your chosen character. As a helpful extra, the reason for each question is given next to it, in brackets.

The source of the questionnaire:
The questionnaire below is from page 140 of Nicola Morgan’s book Write to be Published and is reproduced here with kind permission from Nicola and her publisher, Snowbooks at http://www.snowbooks.com (Please click on the title of the book to link to it’s page on Amazon.co.uk.) Snowbooks is a small publisher based in Oxford in the UK, and Minnesota in the US, who also publish some fine steampunk, horror and fantasy which might interest you.

I can recommend Write to be Published for making clear why publishers and agents most often say “No” and what writers need to do to get them to say “Yes”. The book is packed with sound advice and guidance based on long experience and, with her imitable sense of humour, is a pleasure to read. Please do check out this book and others written by Nicola and visit her website at http://www.nicolamorgan.com where she has an ‘Advice for Writers’ section which I think you will find useful.

The questionnaire:
Remember that you will be using this questionnaire to interrogate your character and that the answers to the questions should come from him/her.

Here we go then:

1. What do you look like? (I need this before I can imagine them at all)

2. What are your worst fears? (Likely to be part of the conflict and tension)

3. What would you most like people to know about you? (Make sure it’s obvious, then.)

4. What would you most like people not to know about you? (Every hero has a flaw)

5. What would you most like to change about your life? (Could be part of the conflict and motivation; could be sub-plot)

6. Why should we care about you? (Because if we don’t, we won’t read on.)

7. What were you doing before this story started? (This informs your back-story)

8. Do people understand you? If not, what do they get wrong? (Makes your character more real because it informs interaction with other characters.)

9. What sort of people like you? Adults? Children? Male? Female? Why? (Helps place your character within the real world instead of on the page.)

10. Are you happy on your own? (As above.)

11. What are you trying to achieve in my story? (Crucial for plot, since character drives action.)

12. What trivial but annoying habit do you have? (Makes character more real. Character can show this habit when angry/sad/stressed – helps you show without telling too much.)

13. What five adjectives best sum you up? (Helps you remember traits to paint most strongly.)

Create a custom made tool:
Give the questionnaire a try, borrow whatever you find useful, add your own questions and even alter aspects of it if you feel you need to.  For example I would have to put number 1 at the end, because I would have to have a sense of what my character is like as a person before I could imagine what they might look like. These checklists and questionnaires are simply tools to be used in whatever way you find useful but this one should get you off to a fine start.

If you have ever tried building a character from a checklist or questionnaire please tell us whether you found it useful and if not, why not? If you have never used a checklist, or don’t like the idea of one, how do you find your way into a character? I love hearing about the different ways in which writers (and that includes beginners) work, so I hope you will be happy to share your experiences.

Next post: A guest post from novelist, Kriss Nicol who will be talking about how she built characters for her novel ‘In Desolate Corners, Shadows Crouch.’

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About lesleyjjackson

Author, Short Story Writer and Poet - Offers help to new, confused and blocked writers
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2 Responses to Checklist or No Checklist? Try this Questionnaire

  1. Thanks for stopping by, Kriss. I like the idea of the ‘hot seat’ though I’m not sure I could think up things fast enough!

    Like

  2. krissnichol says:

    Great exercise. I used to have a personnel sheet for each of my characters and write these kinds of things down so I could build up a back story and provide a 3D character. For a bit of fun I got a friend to ‘hot-seat’ me, firing random questions at me that I had to answer in the role of that character.

    Like

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