Using Character Questionnaires

by Natalie Danyus
(Waukegan, Illinois, USA)

Hi, my name is Natalie, I'm fourteen-years-old.


I got four characters that will be going on the adventure through a different parallel world. My main character is called Autumn Taylor, a fourteen-year-old foster girl who wants to find a person that loves her, she is angry at her mom who did drugs and abused her and her sister, and the kids were taken away. (I'm not sure on why she did drugs at the time)

And she is jealous of her brother Michael who never experienced the neglect that she and her sister experienced. But she still loves him.

After a series of moves from different families. Autumn has done bad things to get the type of love and attention that she wants, like joining a wrong crowd of kids. She ends up regretting it, and becoming a more angry person with a bad temper. Though she doesn't want to have her bad temper anymore either, and feels that it's making people hate her.

Despite this, her mother, after getting rehab, finds a friend who helped her named Olivia Fuller who her mother sends Autumn to.
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I think I know my characters, but other websites say you have to answer a list of questions about the characters to know them. But I would like to know them by just writing about them and see what they do. I know what they all want too. The characters undergoing the adventure, (which Autumn, who gets attacked by these supernatural beings) all want change but have been doing bad things to get it.

They all need to escape the world, the ones that want to change, though it is hard. Do you think I should start writing my story now? Does it seem like I know them well enough? (at least my main character)

By the way, thanks for the tips, I am using them to create the plot line more.

Answer: Hi Natalie,

Regardless what you might read elsewhere, there is no one right way to write a novel. Every writer struggles to find methods that work for them - and sometimes different methods work for different stories. You have to find what will work for you on this project.

Many people do find it helpful to write out character sheets or questionnaires before they start writing. They come in handy if, for example, you are in the middle of Chapter 20 and can't remember what colour eyes you gave a character in Chapter 3. Without character notes to refer to, you risk making "continuity errors," such as giving a character blue eyes in one chapter and brown eyes in another.

That said, you may find it easier to envision your characters while you writing the story rather than in the planning stage. You are perfectly free to just write and see what you discover in the writing process.

Besides, there's no reason you can't fill out character sheets during the writing process - adding new details as you create them. Or you can make character sheets after you've written a complete draft, and then use them to help you revise or proofread.

It sounds like you have a sense of what drives your characters emotionally and you have done some thinking about their histories. At some point, you will probably make decisions about their physical appearance, personality traits, how they relate to each other, and what role they will play in the story. But it's up to you when you made these choices.

The other side of the coin is that some people spend too much time writing character sheets, including endless details that will never make it into the story. You have to trust your own sense of what's important and what you need to get started.

(For instance, are the mother's reasons for doing drugs important to your story? Maybe you won't know until after you've written a draft.)

Bottom line: trust your instincts unless or until you get stuck. Then you can try different methods until you get unstuck.

Best of luck.

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