The (Really Long) Two Question Novel Quiz Part 2: Know Thy Characters

Characters are, without question, the blood of life flowing through
the veins of a novel. Without characters a novel would just be  
setting, and there would be more adverbs and long, flowery dense  
paragraphs describing said setting, which would no doubt increase the  
need for anti-depressants. But you can’t just throw characters on the  
page, make them tongue kiss and call it a novel. No, sir. You need to  
know these characters like you know yourself or your friends or  
Elizabeth Hasselbeck.

Don’t believe me? Fine. But maybe you’ll  
believe my old friend Lajos Egri, who, in The Art of Dramatic  
, states that, in order to truly make “tri-dimensional  
characters”, you need to know their three ‘ology’s: Physiology,  
Sociology, and Psychology. And trust me, you do not want to mess with  
Lajos Egri, especially after he’s been drinking whiskey. Now seeing  
how this is a two question quiz and not three, we have omitted  
psychology, but that matters not. I think you’ll get the drift.

So stop doing pushups in front of the mirror, mute “Will and Grace”, and  
check up on this special, awkwardly long edition of The Two Question  
Novel Quiz.

Directions: Pick the answer that most clearly coincides with what you  
know of your main character.

1. Describe everything you know about the physiology of your character.

A. Casey is a girlish boy between 18-40 with terrible posture.

B. Casey is a really tall girlish boy in his mid-twenties with  
terrible posture and hips that don’t lie.

C. Casey is a 6’8 girlish 26 year old boy with raven black hair,  
green eyes, freckles and the posture of a man who has spent most of  
his life in one of those stockades you see in The Pirates of the  
Caribbean. He’s decent looking despite having thick ankles and uneven  
arms. And yet, his hips still don’t lie.

D. At 6’8, Casey is registered as a giant in several Eastern European  
countries. A long, wiry 26 year old with raven black hair, greenish  
yellow eyes, and those light freckles that only show up in the sun,  
he has to deal with the fact that his right arm is 2 inches longer  
than the left and his ankles are so thick that they may be impossible  
to sprain. His feet are uncomfortably wide, which means he has to  
purchase New Balance running shoes because they come in widths. He  
has a fairly symmetrical face, although that contends with a gigantic  
head that he covers with a ten-gallon Stetson he calls “Izzy”.  
Perhaps that explains his terrible posture and the birthmark of a  
lightning bolt fighting a wizard on his back. And after spending  
several summers in latin dance classes, his hips finally don’t lie.

2. What is the sociological situation your character faces?

A. Drew is a kind of rich white boy who went to one of those schools  
where you don’t come home after school and you have to wear sweaters.  
His parents are, like, aggressively not sweet.

B. Drew is a 22 year old upper-middle class white kid with a secure  
job selling Cutco knives door to door post college. He went to  
boarding school after his parents divorced and his father moved back  
to Ireland. His mom does drugs and cries while watching Grey’s  
Anatomy repeats.

C. Drew is a 22 year old upper-middle class white kid from Weston,  
CT. He has a job right now selling Cutco knives, which is lucrative  
because he knows a lot of rich women with dull knives. Drew attended  
Choate after his parents split and then Connecticut College, where he  
double majored. His mother divorced his father, an Irish doctor,  
after finding out he had a second life in Seattle, WA, where he was  
dating an intern at a hospital. His mother smokes drugs and cries  
while watching Grey’s Anatomy repeats. When this happens, Drew goes  
up in his room and plays video games.

D. Drew is a 22 year old upper-middle class white WASP from Weston,  
CT. He dislikes his current job selling Cutco knives but doesn’t quit  
because he’s made 7 grand in the past two months selling said knife  
sets to bored, rich friends of his mother, who always act impressed  
when he cuts a penny with a knife. After his parents divorced when he  
was 16, Drew attended Choate where he got mostly B’s, and Conn  
College, where he majored in English and Dance and continued to get  
B’s while dating girls one year younger than him. His mother is  
depressed, and has been ever since she found out that his father, a  
surgeon, large Republican party donor and Irish citizen, was leading  
a second life in Seattle, WA, where he lived in a trailer on a large  
tract of land and dated an intern at Seattle Grace named Meredith.  
During the days his mother sits around the house in fleece  
sweatpants, smoking marijuana out of a bowl she confiscated from him,  
eating Funions, and crying while watching several emotional episodes  
from the Second Season of Grey’s Anatomy. When this happens, Drew  
goes up in his room and plays as the Dallas Stars in NHL 94 on his  
Sega Genesis, usually with the penalty for offsides turned off.


Mostly A’s: Perhaps you haven’t quite thought through just how long  
you’re going to be with this character, mostly because you don’t  
really seem to know anything about them. Maybe you two need to re-
evaluate your relationship before moving forward in a serious manner.  
Really, it’s not them, it’s you.

Mostly B’s: You’re getting there. You kind of know things about your  
character, and you’ve kind of started to flesh them out, and that’s  
kind of good, but you better start stepping your game up if you want  
to make this character more than kind of believable. Nice job, kind of.

Mostly C’s: This is good. You’ve really thought about your character  
and started to develop specific, detailed backstory, which will guide  
you through the book. You might even have enough there to be able to  
pump out a first draft in less than three years. Please stop rubbing  
that fact in my face.

Mostly D’s: You have an obsessive, scarily encyclopedic knowledge of  
your made-up character that borders on unhealthy. You probably get  
into real life situations and find yourself thinking, “what would my  
character do here”, which is troubling, especially if you’re on a  
date. And worst of all (for us and the hope for normal social  
interactions), if you want to create successful Egri style “tri-
dimensional” characters, this is probably where you need to be at.  

I Want To Know What Love Is,
I Want You To Show Me


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6 thoughts on “The (Really Long) Two Question Novel Quiz Part 2: Know Thy Characters

  1. Edina Doci

    You should avoid to create an idealistic character, cause what if you fall in love with her? Even if you kill all her lovers and send her conservative family to jail in North Korea, she never can be yours, so at the end you have to kill her too if you don’t want to kill yourself. And all this might not fit to the storyline.

    Great blog!

  2. BJ

    I loved the quiz! Thanks for helping me notice that I know my characters prety damned well after all! Sometimes I can’t help but wonder what they do when I’m not looking. Well that sounds a bit nutty doesn’t it? *grimaces*
    As always, I enjoyed reading your mix of insight and humor. Oh, and it the woman you’re watching has a rose tatoo, I may be looking at her too. *confidential whisper* I think I’ve seen the shoes in the latest Victoria’s Secret catalog.

  3. Kevin Alexander

    I’ll give you an example of this insanity from RIGHT NOW. I’m literally sitting in a cafe, working on a re-write of a chapter, and i’m staring at this woman who looks like she’d be perfect as this awkward mother-who-is-trying-to-be-too-young character, and twice i’ve thought about getting up to "get some more napkins" so i can look at what kind of shoes she’s wearing. Oh man, she’s also got a back tattoo. I can’t tell if that makes it better or worse. I’m thinking much, much better.

    I’m glad people like the quiz. I was embarrassed to see how damn long the "D" answers were, when they showed up on the page.

  4. Pat

    Our own brand of "insanity"! Doesn’t everyone shop at the mall looking for his or her character’s clothing? Doesn’t everyone window chop car dealers for that perfect vehicle the hero needs to whisk away his heroine? Doesn’t everyone table hop from restaurant to restaurant to find the perfect place for the protagonist to take his client?

    Only “insane” writers do this?

    I’m crushed.

    Great blog, Kevin.



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