Tuesday, January 17, 2006

It's the Details

Was out of town this weekend, visiting my mother over the long, Martin Luther King holiday (thank you, Dr. King, for this and so many other things). We made the obligatory visit to Barnes & Noble, which is always fun of course.

I saw something very cool at the store, and come to find out my mother had already picked it up. It's a pair of books called How Well Do You Know Your Husband/Wife? Now, I might not have this title exactly right because a search on Barnesandnoble.com leads me nowhere. It could be that you can only get these in store because they are small, pad-like books (think Mad Libs) that are those fun Q&A party-game type.

Anyway, the book is full of questions that range from simple, like: "Does he (your husband) have his tonsils?" to the more complex, such as: "Does he believe in an afterlife?" The book for the husband contains different questions than the book for the wife, however, they aren't sexist in any way and could be asked of either half of a partnership. Since each book contains 100 questions, that ends up being 200 very interesting bits of trivia about any one person.

I've discovered that these are excellent tools for character development. Last night I sat down with the books and took two of my characters and put them through the quizzes. Naturally I substituted the "husband" and "wife" aspect with "boyfriend/girlfriend" or significant other. And some questions simply didn't apply (like, "which of your relatives is his favorite") if the couple wasn't at least at a certain point in their relationship.

Too, some of the answers changed over the course of the story. For example, one question asked of the men is "If you (the girlfriend) died tomorrow, how soon would he want to get into another relationship?" with answers ranging from "right away" to "never." Of my male character, his answer changed from before he met the heroine to the end of the story, as you might expect.

When all was said and done, I ended up with a page of wonderful trivia facts about my characters. I now know all sorts of details that help me determine what they would do in given situations, and they've become fully-fleshed people. Too, I was able to develop a consistency in the way my characters would behave given their answers to previous questions. For example, if my female could name the current Secretary General of the United Nations, it made sense that when asked what parts of the newspaper she read, the international affairs section would be one of them.

I'm going to put all of my characters through this test. Because this goes beyond those personality tests that simply tell you if a person is outgoing or introverted or adventurous. This gives concrete answers so that these people are individuals rather than one in a group lump.

If you're in Barnes & Noble any time soon, I recommend picking up a copy of these books. They're also a lot of fun to put your own spouse through.

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