What did your heroine have for breakfast on her first day of kindergarten? Who cares?
There are so many indispensable tools and the methods to be sworn by. You’ve got biggies, like Vogler and Maass and Dixon to absorb. Things like GMC and story arcs and setting-as-character and :blah:
One of the things that I find least valuable to me is the Character Questionnaire. I usually jot down a few scribbles here and there, but have you seen some of these things? 30-40 pages? Over the last several years I’ve seen them pushed on a lot of novice writers, and I always cringe.
You can build a walking, talking heroine-bot, and she’ll just wander through the story bleating “Meh…meh…”
I know they work for a lot of people, and that’s great. I’m all for whatever gets your story down on the page. Hey, if you’re channeling Silhouette Romances through your Oiuja board, that’s okay, too. A writer’s method is a writer’s method. (Sidebar: Spending three months building your character manifesto is not writing. Writing is writing.)
Just glancing through some questionnaires:
Does the character like his/her name? Why? Why not? Quite frankly, they don’t give it much thought. By the time you start looking to settle down and do the happily ever after thing, you’ve usually stopped stomping your feet and whining, “But why did you name me Ezmerelda? I’ll never have a boyfriend!”
Which toys and activities did your character enjoy most/least as a child? Why? Objection. Relevance. Sure, I know that a child whose favorite game was chess instead of Barbies might have an intellectual side as a grown-up, but you already knew that about her, didn’t you?
What is his/her favorite color? Strangely enough, Jill’s favorite color did come up in Roadtrip. And her character spontaneously answered it. ’79 Corvette Red.
How does character spend a rainy day? Depends on who he’s with, what he needs to get done, how hard it’s raining, etc, just like every other grown-up who isn’t a Wicked Witch.
Play a musical instrument? Not in the book. Does she play the piano? I don’t know. It didn’t come up. Maybe in the next book the heroine will itch to take her sexual frustrations out on her saxophone (umm…by playing it), but not in this book.
My method: let the character react. If she’s enjoying a midnight stroll with the hero and a dog barks and she climbs up the hero’s back, then I know she had a bad experience with a dog and it might be important.
Anyway, today I saw somebody tell a newbie she couldn’t start writing until she’d done her Character Questionnaires. I let it go, but it’s been festering, so I decided to come over here and babble needlessly about it.
But, boy oh boy, does it piss me off when I see somebody in the “mentor” position say “You have to…”
No. You don’t.