Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Q is for Questionnaire


Every summer, my kids spend a month at sleep away camp. They spend the entire year counting down until that first day when they can leave home and go to their “home away from home.” And while I resisted at first, I’m glad they get the opportunity to spend time away, make new friends and create memories. Getting them to tell me about it, however, is another story.

They’re perfectly happy to tell me every little detail when they’re home. They’re also fairly good about sending letters home—it’s amazing what incentive a meal for a letter home will do—but those letters don’t actually give a lot of information and they definitely don’t answer any of my questions. They’re still not quite sure about letters, anyway. With email and texting, the idea of a letter taking almost a week to get to me, a day to respond and a week to get back to them, their desire for immediate gratification is completely shot.

But, never one to give up, especially when I have the chance to be nosy about my kids and their activities, I asked my friends, whose kids also go to camp, for help. As the parents of boys, they are champions at extracting information from unwilling subjects (not to be stereotypical or anything, but boys grunt, girls chatter). And they provided me with a handy, dandy questionnaire (see, I am getting around to the topic, it’s just taking me a while). The questionnaire is a fill in the blank form, worded in such a way as to prevent “yes” and “no” answers. “My favorite camp activity so far is…” “The names of some of my friends are…” “My favorite food so far is…” It doesn’t require them to write a book, but they do have to provide information (providing they remember to put it in the envelope).

This questionnaire got me thinking about the characters in my books and how I figure out who they are. I think it was last week on this blog that we debated how we come up with our characters—images in our heads, from TV, a voice, etc. Creating the character is just the first step. Until you flesh them out, they’re just an image, an empty form around which you have to create a story. That story is more difficult if you don’t know your characters. And so, the idea of the questionnaire. Hopefully, your characters aren’t as recalcitrant as my children—I don’t know about you, but I write to ESCAPE reality. But even the most loquacious sometimes need a little prompting.

So, here’s my question to you. If you were to create a questionnaire for your characters, what would you ask?

12 comments:

  1. Ooh, that's a really good question. I never even would have considered making a questionnaire for my characters.

    Maybe ask them if they like brussel sprouts.

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  2. Hmm, wonder what kind of character that would make them--brave, intrepid, unique if they like them?

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  3. Sometime last year I saw I blog hop in which participants were supposed to answer 3 questions from the POV of one of their characters. These were about the character's greatest fear, biggest accomplishment and biggest regret. I thought about this, and realised I couldn't actually answer those questions about myself!

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  4. I would love to do a blog hop like that! Maybe with a different type of question though. That would be fun!

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  5. Great post Jennifer! Very though provoking.

    I think I'd have them ask what do they want out of life? Whatappeals to them about the other character? nd what about the other character drives them crazy?

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  6. Am now trying to work out the answers to those for the hero and heroine in my WIP. Great questions, Debra!

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  7. Great questions! Let me know how it goes, Paula.

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  8. Okay, here's part of the answer! Hero wants to keep his kids despite ex-wife's claim for custody, heroine loves the fact that he can make her laugh (and he's sexy too, of course!). Not decided yet what drives either of them crazy!

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  9. That's the answer I want to know!

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  10. Crazy as in irritated or annoyed? Naw, they're in the first flush of love!

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  11. Hmmm. Off the top of my head, I'd ask: 1. (When the story opens) what is it you really, really want, and why will your life be better if get it? 2. What will you do to entice, or repel, this significant person who has invaded your space? 3. What do you not want this person to know about you?

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