Shannon Stacey

What are Wheaties, Alex?

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.

13 comments to “What are Wheaties, Alex?”

  1. Bron
      · April 9th, 2005 at 2:28 am · Link

    I confess I do use a character chart, but only a 2 page one I put together, and I don’t bother filling in all the spaces :wink: I find them useful in that they sometimes prompt ideas, but I’ve never been one for interviewing my characters or writing a full psychological profile or any of that stuff. I’d also never tell anyone that they *have* to use one. Sometimes people try to be helpful and end up creating a whole lot of unnecessary stress for new writers trying to find their way.

  2. Anna Lucia
      · April 9th, 2005 at 5:43 am · Link

    It’s not the charts, per se, that are the problem. It’s people who turn “this works for me” into “THOU SHALT DO IT THIS WAY OR YOU’RE NOT A PROPER WRITER”

    Run screaming from the mentor who says, “you have to…. :rant:

  3. Larissa
      · April 9th, 2005 at 10:11 am · Link

    I used to fill out the character charts until I realized that for me, it doesn’t matter. If something is important, I write it down. If it isn’t, I’m not wasting my time on what my heroine’s favorite flavor ice cream is.

  4. Alison
      · April 9th, 2005 at 10:25 am · Link

    Never done one. Never needed to know about the Wheaties. And if I did, it came to me at the right time. Why do extra work that means nothing in the scheme of my book!!!

  5. Charlene T
      · April 9th, 2005 at 10:38 am · Link

    Agh, those rules again. What Anna Lucia said. I have yet to meet two writers who work exactly the same way. There’s just this big potful of things that can help, and whatever works for you is the thing to grab out and keep. So what if it’s not how Great Expert Author does it?

    And if you’re an unconscious writer (panster, fly into the mist writer, whatever you want to call it) 90% of the organizational stuff is no help whatsoever. The other 10% is some help once you have the draft finished. I remember reading about 3×5 cards and cutting a manuscript (literally, cutting it into strips to revise it!) and thinking, “I can never in a million years do it this way.” So I didn’t. :grin:

  6. Mel
      · April 9th, 2005 at 11:03 am · Link

    I just fill one out so by page 150 I can remember what the heroine’s best friend’s cat’s name is…. or if she has pierced ears or even her eye color. Gotta love those heroines/heros with changing eye color…

  7. Shannon
      · April 9th, 2005 at 11:55 am · Link

    Bron, if you’re doing a 2-pager and not filling in all the blanks, and I’m scratching notes in notebook margins, there’s a good chance we’re jotting down the same amount of stuff. :cheesy:

    Charlene, I got scared just thinking about trying to revise strips of manuscript. Wow!

    And Mel, I guess doing it that way certainly would have helped me when it was time to do the cover request, huh? I had no idea about so many of the questions on there. :rofl:

    I have an entire ‘nother entry about The Rules and newbie writers, but…it’s not written yet. :shrug:

    We were up until midnight trying to get the new DVD recorder hooked in. We’ve got all the components hooked together by about 200 cables in certain orders, but we’re not getting a video feed from the DVD to the TV.

    We’re going to need more :coffee:

  8. Cece
      · April 9th, 2005 at 9:57 pm · Link

    I have a 2-pager and one of the questions is, what do you do if you witness a murder? Ummmmm RUN!?

    Some stuff I just don’t have to write down. The stuff I do is the internal stuff I jot down as i write. Then again, I’ve had characters I have no plans for pop on the pages, fully developed wihtout putting any acutal thought into them. :wink:

  9. Bron
      · April 10th, 2005 at 12:24 am · Link

    Shannon, we probably are jotting down a similar amount. But I lose notes in margins, so the chart has that advantage for me of keeping things in one place :wink: It also prompts me to think a bit beyond what just comes – and I’ve had a few moments of pure inspiration as a result of the questions.

    But as for religiously filling everything out, or working out what the hero ate for breakfast as a child…… nope, not my style :wink: (With the possible exception of the hero who regularly had to forage for bush tucker to survive his childhood….)

  10. Shannon
      · April 10th, 2005 at 12:25 am · Link

    Oooooooh–that’s actually a good question! The answer says a lot about the person. Better than “How does your character feel about his/her sign of the Zodiak?” :nod:

  11. Shannon
      · April 10th, 2005 at 9:36 am · Link

    Well, that would certainly be applicable, Bron! :rofl:

    I can almost see the romantic walk through the park, and the heroine’s remark about getting hungry.

    “Here, have a grub!”

  12. Holly Lisle
      · April 10th, 2005 at 1:01 pm · Link

    I generally let my characters ramble on the the first person about their lives for a few pages. I haven’t done a character questionnaire in years.

  13. kate
      · April 10th, 2005 at 4:16 pm · Link

    :blah::blah::blah::blah: I talked yesterday. Every few sentences I’d say now this is how I do it, but that doesn’t mean that’s how you ought to do it. :blah::blah::blah:

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