Internet quizzes. Who can resist something that combines the allure of self-improvement with the adrenaline hit of secrets revealed? Especially when you add in a dash of culture, some humour, and five minutes of fun answering questions about (courtesy of Buzzfeed) “How big a dick are you?” or “What kind of mad scientist would you be?” or even “What font are you?” You need to know these things, right? Right?
Yeah, me neither.
In actual fact, though, you do need to know these things. About your characters, that is. As a writer, such light-hearted quizzes can actually be a powerful tool for developing characters.
Think about it.
So many character-creation tips start off with asking you to pick static traits or build complex histories dating back to early childhood—methods that can fall apart once your characters take their first steps. People are all about the decisions they make. Static back-stories don’t necessarily ensure your character will come alive on the page.
In a good story, the decisions that characters face are the most important turning points of their lives. But getting to know your characters as they cope with these major, stressful transitions is a bit like learning to drive on a Formula One race track.
Internet quizzes, however, make a perfect training ground for you and your characters. Pick a quiz, answer as your character. It is really quite surprising how much the mix of unexpected distinctions can tell you:
Would my character, upon being alone in a friend’s bathroom and clogging the toilet: (a) flee, (b) flush again and cross their fingers, (c) gross! Not my house, not my problem, or (d) ask for a plunger? Interestingly, (a) and (c), while the same overall action (leaving the scene of the crime), nonetheless have different motivations. Motivation is character, and I bet you already know more about your protagonists.
Or this one: What kind of pasta are you? To determine this crucial aspect, the questions include ideal retirement locale, which fictional animal you wish was real, and favourite sci-fi subgenre. Are new character dimensions revealing themselves?
And don’t underestimate how helpful the little answer blurbs can be either. To use the Which “Once Upon a Time” Character Are You? quiz as an example, you can actually end up with a fairly cogent psychological profile.
For my character, the final blub was: “You’re a survivor. You believe in realism, even when there are magic spells being cast right before your eyes. You know that the world — well, all the worlds — are full of danger and deception, and there’s no quick fix for anyone’s problems. But that hasn’t made you bitter, it’s made you smarter. You’re an independent self-starter who doesn’t ask for favors, and never takes the easy way out. It takes a lot to get through your defenses, but lucky are the few that do. You’ll do absolutely anything to protect and care for the people you love, even when the cost is your own happiness.”
That is actually pretty spot-on. Which makes the type of questions used interesting to analyse.
Most questions here are visual. In picking a “noble steed”, would your character be drawn to one in motion, or a static portrait? One charging down a beach with surging seas in the background or placidly grazing in a sunny, flower-filled meadow? Glossy and well-brushed, or saddled, or mother and baby nuzzling? Having to choose between pictures can force your subconscious to combine several character elements to, again, predict decisions. This is an easy way to get you thinking in character.
Some elements are ones you’d be hard pressed to broach another way. For example, from the same quiz, the question “pick a potion” asks you to choose between several vials. Is your character drawn to the blood-red one billowing smoke? The black-filled one decorated with delicate filigree? The sky-blue opaque bottle, contents a mystery, set on a rock? The golden elixir bedecked with a red ribbon? Making such a decision involves fine shades of distinction in your character’s outlook.
And even if the answers don’t quite fit, figuring out what elements specifically strike a wrong chord can still get you to a deeper understanding of your characters.
Using the example above, my character does ask for a favour, a big one, pretty early on. As I’m not suggesting you toss aside careful characterization based on the pop-psychology of an internet quiz, I did take a look at that aspect of his character. The favour he asks for is actually minor, not things that effect his life or security. It feels major because he hates asking so it becomes a big deal in his own mind. Figuring out what types of things he does and doesn’t feel comfortable asking for, i.e. where he draws that line, was also insightful. Presto—deeper characterisation.
And all in ten minutes. Hooked, aren’t you?
Go on. Try it. What facial hair is your character?