A Character Questionnaire

I spent the last two days at the New Jersey SCBWI conference in Princeton -- a very enjoyable conference, with lots of good discussions and nice people. My talk was a shorter, tighter version of the speech on character I gave in Missouri last November. I do not plan to post the full text on my website -- sorry -- because wow, being able to reuse a speech makes life a lot easier in the days leading up to a conference! But I did promise I would post the outline of the create-a-character exercise, which was originated by Joan Bauer at the Los Angeles SCBWI conference in April 2007 and amended by moi:

1. Facts
-- Gender
-- Age
-- Ethnicity
+ Here I must point out, as I did in my sessions, that of the three times I've run this exercise with a group of people, I've gotten "Hispanic," "Indian" (meaning South Asian, not Native American), and "Hispanic" as answers to this question; and I always find it interesting that many of us white people (as the vast majority of attendees at SCBWI conferences are) don't automatically think of "White/Caucasian" as an ethnicity.
-- Sexuality
-- Basic family situation
+ Who's in the immediate family
+ Their socioeconomic status?
-- Where they live
+ Rural, suburban, urban?
+ Region and country

2. Internal Qualities
-- Personality traits
-- Ethics/morals/values
-- Degree of self-awareness

3. External Qualities
-- Appearance
-- Manners of speaking/patterns of behavior

4. History (aka Backstory)
-- that is relevant to the plot or relevant to how your characters will act in that plot

1. Desire: What the character wants

2. Attitude/Energy: The attitude the character brings to the situation in which s/he finds him- or herself

3. Action: What they will do within the novel; the result of Desire plus Attitude

And three more questions:
1. What is the character's joy? What keeps him or her alive?
2. What is the character's pain?
3. Where did the character get his or her name?

The basic idea is that you fill in an answer to each bullet point or question, and by the end of the chart, you have a character who's ready to be the protagonist of a book, where the plot is how the character gets the Desire and overcomes the Pain by the means of their Action and the Joy. It's a tremendously powerful exercise to do in a group because you can just feel this person come to life in the ether, shimmering there in our group imagination, waiting to have his or her story told; and I hope the chart proves useful to you in the telling.

Happy writing to all!