This post features Trevor from School Spirit
This is a technique I’ve been using for many years to help develop my characters. I created a survey of 100 questions, and randomly choose 20. Additionally there are the bullet point questions which everyone fills out. I give the survey to the character (Yes, my characters frequently get homework from me. And they can get over it and stop grumbling.) They fill out the survey, and then the dialog section gives my trusty alter-ego a chance to delve into whatever strikes her curiosity at the moment.
Feel free to ask your own questions in the comments, and I’d be happy to pass them along to Trevor 😉
- Gender: Male
- Age: 17
- Hair Color: Light Brown
- Eye Color: Hazel
- Hair Style: Extremely curly
- Body Type: Short and small
- Favorite color: Yellow
- Typical Outfit: Jeans and a Hoodie
- In a nutshell: High School student. Very interested in his classes, but feels discouraged because of his lack of social skills. Wants to feel included by his peers.
- What is the most embarrassing aspect of being you? I’m ridiculously bad at social interactions. I really should have figured that all out by now, but it just keeps getting harder. I’m not ‘chatty.’ It’s not that I hate people or anything, I just find small talk so exhausting, so it’s always awkward being around people.
- What role do you take in a large group? Honestly? None. I normally stand off to the side trying to think of something to contribute to the conversation, and never actually saying anything.
- What is your favorite discussion topic? Science. Although I wouldn’t say I really like talking about anything. I’d rather just work on various projects with people, and occasionally say, “Hey, this is neat,” or “Why do you think it’s not working?”
- How are you contradictory? I’m really serious about school, so most people think I’m probably an all A’s kind of student, and I’m really not. Not in all subjects, anyway. Actually, sometimes I blow off some subjects to concentrate more on the one’s I find interesting, so my grades are pretty lopsided.
- When you’re upset, what helps? I like taking things apart. (Not an invitation to cart me off to therapy. Just saying.) But if something’s broken anyway, I’ll hang onto it, and if I’m having a bad day I’ll dismantle an old CD player or cell phone and try to figure out how it works. It’s normally absorbing enough to take my mind off of whatever was bugging me.
- What award are you least likely to win? Cross country MVP. Or some kind of award for being really involved with extracurricular things.
- What is your Myers Briggs type? I (Introvert) S (Sensing) T (Thinking) J (Judging)
- How do you kill time? I don’t know. Same as everyone, I guess. Daydreaming. Playing hacky sack. Throwing pinecones around. Napping.
- What mistake do other people normally make about you? Most people think I’m a real teacher’s pet because I get good grades. Like, they’ll stop ragging on teachers when I come over, like I’d go report them or something. I’m not like that. For the most part, I don’t really care what other people do, and I’d need a really good reason to try to get someone else in trouble.
- What would earn your sympathy? Kids getting bullied. I went through a bit of that (not so much now) and it really sucks.
- What is the best compliment I could give you? Telling me that I was a prodigy or something. I know I’m not really that good at anything, but it would be great for someone to look at me and decide “Oh, yeah. That one is definitely going places.”
- What makes you angry? When a lot of things go wrong in a row. I know enough about the world to understand that bad luck happens. That’s fine. But when I have those days where absolutely everything goes wrong, I get beyond stressed out by it.
- Favorite sound? That crackling sound when you make an electrical circuit. Like, when you’re jumpstarting a car and you attach the last cable. It’s the only time the current really ‘speaks’ to you. (yeah… that sounded more touchy-feely than I wanted. Sorry.)
- Make a list of 5 things. Any category.
The first five things I would buy if I won the lottery.
- A really impressive car.
- College. I’m smart, but I know I won’t get a full ride anywhere and tuition is ridiculously high. I mean, I’m still planning on going, but it would be infinitely easier if I didn’t have to go knee-deep in dept to do it.
- A parrot. They live a hundred years and talk. Perfect pet.
- A trip to a foreign country. I’ve never been anywhere.
- Pizza. The most expensive kind they have. As often as I want it.
- How are you most likely to get injured? Car accident. My driving isn’t impressive, I’ll admit it.
- What makes you useful? Well, I mean… I drive the dragon around. The coaches appreciate that, because if they had to hire someone to transport him, we probably just wouldn’t have a mascot at our races. And I’d like to think that some day I’m going to do something cool with engineering.
- Under what circumstances would you hurt someone? Like… intentionally? Do I look like I could beat someone up to you? And I better not try, because I sure as heck couldn’t outrun them afterwards.
- What do you want, but don’t want to ask for? I want to have closer friendships. I may not like talking, but I also don’t like feeling lonely all the time. I wish people would just kind of ‘get’ it without me having to explain things.
- What mistake are you most afraid of making? Accidentally losing a hand or arm. I’d have to seriously rethink my entire life.
- How likely are you to change your mind? Depends on how much time I put into the original decision. If it’s something I thought about for a long time, most likely I’ll stick with it.
- What sort of person would benefit from knowing you? This is going to sound stupid, but I think it would be a person exactly like me. I feel really alone sometimes, and I know I’d feel better if there was another socially awkward, scholarly (in a very one-track kind of way), out-of-the-loop person around.
- What is your biggest secret? I don’t really have any. Nothing dark and mysterious, anyway.
- What is your deepest fear? I already kind of covered this, but I’d hate to lose an arm or get brain damaged or anything that would keep me from my current plan for life. I don’t really have a back-up idea.
- Describe yourself in one word: Frustrated
“Frustrated,” Hannah repeated the last answer on the survey. These ‘one word’ answers surprised her frequently, and interested her because them were seldom the word she would have chosen for the character. “I wouldn’t say that’s your defining trait. Why did you pick that?”
Trevor glared at her. “How can I possibly have gotten a question wrong on my own survey?”
“Didn’t say wrong,” Hannah clarified. “Just interesting. Why?”
“Well…” Trevor shrugged like this really ought to be obvious. “You were seventeen once, right? It is frustrating. I’m not saying I’m the only one feeling confused and grumpy about life, but that doesn’t mean I can’t put it down as my word. The question wasn’t ‘what one word describes you and no one else?’”
“Hm. That’s a good point, actually,” Hannah said, mentally shifting the way she looked at that particular question. “So, tell me about dragons. The survey didn’t really let you get into that topic much.”
“What about them?” Trevor asked.
“Anything,” Hannah said. “Not all worlds have that feature.”
“Really? Weird.” Trevor wiggled to find a more comfortable position on the armchair. “Well… mostly they’re really cool. Like, it’s the kind of thing you’d tell your friends when they asked how your weekend was. ‘Dude, I saw a dragon!’ It’s brag-worthy.”
“So, seeing a dragon is rare, then?”
“Not as rare as seeing a movie star or something.” He paused here, eyes widening with the joy of statistics. “You know, some dragons are actors. If you saw a dragon who was also a movie star… yeah. Wow.”
“Wow,” Hannah agreed.
Trevor came back from this realization and continued. “Anyway, I guess it depends on where you live. People in big cities probably see dragons more often, just because the smaller towns can’t afford to accommodate them so dragons don’t live there. My city isn’t huge, but we’re big enough I guess. I’ve seen maybe five dragons besides Rodney.”
“Are they all about as big as Rodney?”
“A little bigger,” Trevor admitted. “Not all of them could ride in the back of my dad’s pickup, but most of them could, I think.”
“About that,” Hannah said. “Rodney can fly. Why, exactly, did you need to drive him around?”
“Well… I can walk. That doesn’t mean I feel like hiking to and from school. It would be kind of rude to ask dragons to do that when humans drive everywhere.”
“Got it.” She made a note of this. “So, why do you hate running?”
“It’s boring,” Trevor said, needing no time to think about it. “And difficult. And I have better things I could be doing.” He sounded like he was finished, but then added. “And I’m really bad at it.”
“If you were really fast, would you like it?”
“I mean… yeah, probably,” he sounded detached, like they were discussing the possibility of him having a second head. “It’s hard to hate something you’re really good at. But I’m not, so it doesn’t matter.”
“Ever try any other sports?”
“No. Definitely, no. At least with running I can be really bad without hurting the team in any way.”
“Fair enough.” She leaned forward. “Now, what I really want to know: going forward after the story, will you and Rodney be friends?”
Trevor made a face and scratched at his hair. He mumbled something.
“Sorry, what was that?” Hannah tried not to let her love for his extreme embarrassment show.
“Probably,” Trevor said, only slightly more coherently than the last time. “He’s still kind of… but yeah. Most likely.”
“That’s what I figured.”