Saturday, May 05, 2007

Writing Games

Sean's Fiction Sandwich post a while back got me to thinking about a tengental subject I tend to call "Writing Games."

These are the "Answer these five/ten/twenty questions about your character/hero/villain" lists you see in books, on the web, and elsewhere. The questions can run the gammut from "What is their favorite color?" and "Who was their best childhood friend?" to "Name a traumatic early-life experience that has shaped your character's world view" and "How would they react to X situation?"

Frankly, I've never had much use for these kinds of exercises. In theory, they are supposed to help flesh out the people in your story; but to me, they are more about building clutter than character.

This is part of the reason I've never liked the "Here are X number of questions about your character/protagonist/hero/villain" games some writers play. Yes, it can be helpful, but it can also weigh you down with a lot of useless, unnecessary trivia bits about your characters that you then feel you need to somehow fit into your writing. Honestly, I don't care if your protagonist had a crush on his 5th grade teacher, prefers peppermint to spearmint, and wears orange sock on the third Monday of every month in memory of his late Aunt Emmeline. If it isn't pertinent to the story or his overall character, I don't care. And you shouldn't either, unless it tells you something truly important about your character.

Now, that isn't to say you shouldn't know more about your character than you will ever put down on the page. Knowing more than you tell is good, and it helps give a sense of breadth and depth and a sense of their having life beyond the story. However, there is a difference between important, revealing, character-defining bits of knowledge, and the trivial, unimportant pieces of data that don't make one bit of difference in the final resolution of the story.

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