What is it all for? (part 1)

Specifically, what are all of those questions in “character templates” for? I’ve been wanting to do this for ages, but between health and caring for a very demanding infant, I was basically stuck with the choice to make it shorter than I wanted to, or wait until an opportunity presented itself. I went with the latter. Ish. I worked on bits of it in between periods of being needed or having a more powerful desire to finish reading a book.

My opinion on these things is as muddy as ever. I am still in the mode that I think they’re a waste of time, but if they make people feel better when they have writer’s block or have some other reason they can’t write, character templates/dossiers/what-have-you can be a soothing balm for the itch.

I decided not to go with anything on deviantART, both for reasons of quality and because even if I linked, someone would be bound to cry thief and sob angrily at my opinion. Because deviantART either breeds that kind of mindset, or merely attracts it.

Instead, I looked further and found this. (I’m not exactly in agreement with everything in the article that comes before the profile questions, but at least it’s a positive thing to say) Unlike many I have seen, the questions were not a metre-long list of stupid. Which suits my purposes much better than the stupid would.

Why might any of these questions be necessary to the point that you should answer a single one rather than just keep some template-free notes on your characters? I might have to break this up into a few posts. (especially because of that cute little boy we all know and love.)

Basic Statistics

Name – This seems like it would be more like a title for the profile than a question. Its purpose is obvious, and should include any information on the character’s name. If he/she is known by a nickname throughout the story and their birth name is unimportant or never mentioned, then don’t bother thinking it up.

Age – This really depends on your genre. Usually, it’s only necessary to mention it when writing for audiences under twenty, maybe under thirty. It might be important to keep on hand, but only in case you mention it, so that you’ll be better able to keep it consistent.

Nationality – Considering how badly different nationalities and ethnicities are often handled, this can be a tricky thing to even touch. While it’s certainly important to know this about a character, writing it down ahead of time may encourage one to exposit the fact in a clumsy or offensive manner.

Socioeconomic Level as a child – I don’t want to move any of the questions, but this one and a few of the others can all be lumped together. I’ll mark them with a ^ symbol. This is only important if you don’t have a good idea of your character at all, or if you plan to explore relevant themes, such as a rags-to-riches story.

Socioeconomic Level as an adult – ^

Hometown – Unimportant if it doesn’t affect the story or character’s personality or relationships. Especially if the story isn’t set there.

Current Residence – Same thing. If this isn’t your setting, then you don’t need to specify it. You will safely remember where you set your story without prompting, I’m sure.

Occupation – This is one of the better shorthand questions, but mostly for characters who are adults. Most minors are assumed to be students, unless they have a part-time job. And the latter is not often employed in fiction, aside from things like Hold Me Closer, Necromancer, and those characters were not minors.

Income – This isn’t quite ^, but it’s close. You don’t actually need precise numbers (you don’t for most things), just a basic understanding of income brackets and social class based on income. If it’s vital to the story, then you should have a more detailed knowledge than middle class < billionaire.

  • Also note that having a lot of money doesn’t necessarily make a person Bruce Wayne or Scrooge McDuck. Think of the Beverly Hillbilies and their mystified view of the waste considered acceptable to people more accustomed to being rich. This also goes for education level, but since that won’t come up until the third section of this thing, I’ll mention it now:
  • Being highly intellectual does not equal being highly educated, nor does everyone behave or live the same way with either or even both of those traits. In Supernatural, there is a character who is a genius–and he lives in a bar in the middle of nowhere, wears a mullet, and speaks and behaves like a stereotypical hick.

Talents/Skills – This can be either a very good thing or a very bad thing to work on before writing. On the side of Bad Idea, you might overload on “cool” abilities, and make the character a psychic actor who can play the guitar and fly. Or on a non-paranormal level, it might be a singing martial artist animator who cooks like a professional. On the side of Good Idea, you can catch yourself doing that, and pare it down to a more believable skillset. Also, if the setting is a magical one (or similar), this is a way to keep each character’s skills and powers straight.

Salary – ^ Also, a bad idea, unless it’s going to be mentioned (which is also probably a bad idea). Being precise with numbers, aside from things like age and number of friends or siblings, etc., is just a waste of time.

Birth order – This is only important if the answer is first, middle, youngest, or twin. Also, please don’t specify which twin is older. It’s mostly childish, and it’s getting annoyingly old.

Siblings (describe relationship) – Unnecessary if they are never present or have no particular impact on the character. Not every character with a sister has to have an strong relationship with her, be it loving or bitter.

Spouse (describe relationship) – Obviously only important if the character is married or divorced.

Children (describe relationship) – Similar applies.

Grandparents (describe relationship) – What. Is this ever important if the grandparent is not a character or strong memory?

Grandchildren (describe relationship) – This is awfully specific. I can’t see that so many characters would have these and include them in the story in any meaningful manner that you would need to keep this around as a general question. Smells of padding to me.

Significant Others (describe relationship) – I would say replace “Spouse” with this one.

Relationship skills – This could be tough to decide on an answer. They could range from “excellent” to a lengthy backstory about Garland’s fear of strong women or Maria’s inability to read social cues.

///

Speaking of lengthy… that did get long. I’ll tackle this section by section. Owen needs to either be put to bed more permanently, or put into warmer pyjamas.

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