Some novelists find fleshing out their characters difficult, which can feel all the more frustrating because you spend most of your life surrounded by characters — how can you actually know that many people yet have trouble coming up with a handful of your own to push around for about seventy thousand words?
You can find entire books on how to develop characters, but their exercises can be dry and feel like homework. If that sounds like a slog to you, then I think I found a shortcut that isn’t too embarrassing to admit you’re familiar with nowadays: fill out an OKCupid profile for your major characters.
If you look at the site’s basic profile questions, they’re designed to give you an idea of the profilee’s personality with a bit of a focus on their social side. It might not be thorough enough if you write third-person omniscient and hop through multiple heads for your POV. But, for characters we’ll only see from the outside, it can give you a good model for how they present themselves and help you figure out some basic personality traits. You can even think about the particular way one might answer the questions and what that says about them — would they give terse responses to the questions as they’re written, be overly serious, or have some fun with it?
I made four for the (human) main cast of To Another Abyss when that was still in draft. Here’s the one for Decca as an example:
I am a patient girl/I WAIT I WAIT I WAIT I WAAAIT
What I’m doing with my life
abjectadjunct professor in the Six College area who spends her nights at Pearl Street when not grading papers or being too online. Please don’t be a student and make things weird.
I’m really good at
Discreetly printing personal stuff off on office copiers. Being that person who brings a party down by telling off your jackass friend telling bro-y jokes.
The first thing people notice about me
I just asked a friend of mine and he said, “that you’re slightly annoyed with me.” Which I think sounds pretty fair.
Favorite books, music, movies, TV shows, and foods
B) Lauraine LeBlanc, Leonora Carrington, Simon Springer, God’s Bits of Wood, The Invisibles, Red London, Please Don’t Kill the Freshman.
Mu) Bad Religion,The Distillers, Ganser, Gland, Neighborhood Brats, Nerve Agents, PRIESTS, Propagandhi, Refused, Remember Sports, Special Interest, Tsunami Bomb, X-Ray Spex.
Mo) The Raspberry Reich. A Scanner Darkly. SLC Punk is actually liberal trash but Matthew Lillard has the realest crying scene.
TV) I put in twice as many bands to make up for this section’s lack.
F) I like devilled eggs so much that I’ll go to staff parties just because there might be a tray of them.
Six things I could never do without
Theory. Practice. Music. Meaningful work. Felt-tip markers. Solovair boots (my only instance of brand loyalty.)
I spend a lot of time thinking about
Whether that little joke with Scooby Doo characters and the local colleges really works or not. Seriously, I’ve got diagrams drawn up.
On a typical Friday night I am
Singing along with a chorus while doing 85 on the Mass Pike. Or at home dunking on Kurt Eichenwald if there aren’t any good shows that week.
The most private thing I’m willing to admit
You’ve probably seen my writing somewhere else. No, not there.
You should message me if
If you want to sneak in to those old factories along the Connecticut River after dark. If you’ve already killed the cop inside your head. If you don’t have a podcast.