Beating back blocks with knowledge!

Thanks to my unscientific poll last week, I learned that lots of you are of a writerly persuasion. That’s awesome, because now, I don’t have to fret about boring you to death by sharing some of my incredibly nerdy nerd tools!

When I’m writing, one of the things I do over and over again is answer character questions. You know, all those online “10 Character Creation Questions” quizzes that proliferate on writing sites. I do this because 1) they’re fun, and 2)  when I get stuck writing, it’s almost always because I don’t know something I need to know. Sometimes it’s a plot point or world building thing that I haven’t thought through, but, 9 times out of 10, I’m stumped because I don’t know my character well enough, and as a result I’m accidentally trying to make them do something they either wouldn’t do at all, or wouldn’t do in that way. Through trial and error, I’ve found that the fastest way to combat this problem is to ask them questions. Preferably on the subject at hand, but, if I’m really stuck, anything will do. I just ask questions until I stumble onto the solution to my problem. 

I get stuck a lot, so I’ve done a lot of character creation question sheets. Lately, however, it’s been frustrating, because most character sheets are set up as if this is the first time you’ve ever thought about your characters. They ask you basic things like “what’s you name?” or “who were your parents?”  But I’m on my second book with these people. I need something meatier, something that reaches a little further than “what was your most traumatic experience?”

Fortunately, I’m married to a super awesome man. My husband makes and runs role playing games for our circle of friends, and he’s constantly creating tools for them. A while ago, when I was lying on the floor bemoaning my book (a weekly occurance), he gave me a list of questions he’d written up for his players in an attempt to get deeper characters out of them. I loved it, and I’ve used it as a staple for all my characters ever since.

So, for your edification and enjoyment, I’m posting it here. Think of it as a short supplement to other character creation sheets.  I hope you find it useful, and if you think of any awesome questions to add, please let me know!!

Extended Character Creation – Hypothetical Questions

(written by Travis Bach)

  1. Which is better? The life of Achilles or the life of Methuselah? (i.e., would you rather live a short life full of glory, or a long life of safety?)
  2. Would you kill 1 person to save 1000 people?
  3. What would it take to make you commit suicide?
  4. If you could destroy the world, would you?
  5. If you could rule the world, would you?
  6. Would you prefer all the knowledge in the world or all the power in the world?
  7. Is it better to be respected or feared?
  8. What is your most precious thing? (One’s own life counts)
  9. Which is more important – family or friends?
  10. If you found out that a great man, who does much good in the world, was once a pedophile/rapist, what would you do? Would your choice change if you personally knew one of his past victims?
  11. If deeply hurting someone was the only way to save them, would you do it?
  12. What would you do with your life if you suddenly became blind or badly crippled?
  13. Do you believe in destined love/love at first sight?
  14. If you had to permanently diminish the world in order to save it, would you? (i.e., if cutting the magic out of the world was the only way to save it, would you do so and leave the world alive but lessened?)

2 Responses to “Beating back blocks with knowledge!”

  1. May 1, 2009 at 11:05 pm

    Wow. I’m totally blown away by these questions. They’re so…juicy. I have a feeling this will work really well with the GMC model I learned.

    If you haven’t heard of it, GMC is Goals (of the character), Motivation (why they want those goals), and Conflict (what stands in their way). I do that for every character, even secondary to make sure that they all act in accordance to the goals that have been set.

  2. 2 auntielou
    May 2, 2009 at 2:48 pm

    Great questions!

    Another very helpful thing I’ve done is interrogate my characters about a particularly crucial point in the plot — where were you at the time, how did you find out about what happened, what exactly do you think did happen and why, how has it affected your life — that sort of thing.

    Maybe everybody does this, I don’t know. What I do know is that I ended up with a neat short story out of the process, something I can use as an introduction to the novel. If it’s ever finished, that is.

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