Why make a list when you can make a story…?
(Warning: This definitely contains plot spoilers, as it is basically a major character from my novel-in-progress answering, in his own voice, a bunch of questions from one of those annoying and ubiquitous character-creation lists.)
He glances at the sheets of paper in his hand. “You want me to what?” As he skims over the printed list, he shakes his head — in amusement or disbelief, or something else. “Don’t you know all this stuff already? You’re my author, aren’t you?
“Well, the first few are easy enough. Name: Jason Grey. Yeah, that isn’t the name I was born with, but doesn’t it become legal after just seven years? Pretty sure we’ve got that covered,” he says with a rueful smile.
“Age: No one’s business. Don’t expect me to say thirty-six just because it’s traditional — you know as well as I do that I don’t look that old. I looked twenty-four when you met me, and I look that age now, and I know you’re going to let other people see my answers to this thing…” He sighs. “Next item, physical description: Well, you’re posting parts of that damn book online, so it’s not really much of a secret. Five-foot-eleven, brown hair, brown eyes… Look, can we come back to this one? Not really comfortable with it just now.
“Hmmm. Long-term ambition: To go home, I guess. Not that it’s likely, but what do I know? I may be talking to you and helping with your little metafiction thing, but I’m still mostly stuck in the story, and I have no idea what you have planned for me later. I hope, at least, that you let me achieve my short-term ambition: Not dying, at least not in this book.
“Where character lives: Well, until quite recently, that would be the Roald Amundsen. You know better than I do where I’ll end up next…” He mutters something under his breath about Utah, which the interviewer ignores.
“Favorite food: Yeah, that’s an important question…” He rolls his eyes slightly. “I don’t know if I have one. Seriously, right now I’m just craving anything that involves bread and/or meat.
“Favorite kind of music: When? I really liked music from the 1980s, back when last I lived on Earth. You know, like in the expression, ‘If you remember the Sixties, you weren’t there.’
“Weaknesses or character flaws: Sarcasm. And paranoia. Next question…
“Race: These items are really out of order, aren’t they? Okay. If someone were to ask me, Are ye human and not a cabbage or something?, I could honestly say that I’m not a cabbage. If they just said, Are you human?, I’d ask if they were asking or quoting. My response to a quote, of course, has to be, I don’t think so.” He grins. “My response to a question would be, You already know, or you wouldn’t be asking.
“Why is this character worth writing about? Are you serious? You’re the author — I just live here. I can only make assumptions, because, as I said, I don’t know where this story is going, but if I had to guess, I’d say that I’m probably indirectly connected to something really important, and my presence in the story is going to influence how the person in the middle of things deals with the whole mess. I’m not the kind of person who influences Great Events. Trust me, I’ve lived through a lot of history and managed not to get involved.
“Most important thing to know about character: He hates character questionnaires and may refuse to cooperate with his author if he has to do one of the damn things more than once.
“Does the character attend church? You must be joking… No. Definitely not. If not, why? Maybe because the last time I was in one, someone decided to try to kill me and my friends — and did kill my best friend.
“What kind of car? Not applicable now, but I did own a red pickup truck once. Great camouflage, that thing.
“Hmmm… Skip. Skip. Favorite clothes: I like to dress casual and comfortable.
“Favorite colors: Neutral or earth tones. I wear a lot of this dark, muted blue-green color, but that could be my author’s fault.
“Married? I was. That was a long time ago. Her name was Elena.
“Children? None. Kinda doesn’t happen when you’re not the same species as your significant other, y’know?
“Birthplace: That would be Kyre, a city north of that place that you can’t get to from here.
“Class in society: Whose society? This one? I suppose I was comfortably middle-class when last it was an issue — we had a house and all — but there as also that matter of being a non-citizen, technically, anywhere. And now? As I said before, I don’t know what is going to happen to me next. Maybe I’ll be hailed as a returning hero, the captain of a ship thought lost and all that; maybe I’ll end up someplace worse than the one Walotsky got me out of.
“Interesting info regarding family: My younger brother and I have the same parents. This isn’t common amongst our people.
“Parents’ occupations: The short answer would be, They work for the government. Administration stuff.
“College? No. I have no formal education that is current enough to count.
“Significant events related to college: I met my wife through the friend of a friend when both were university students.
“The best thing that ever happened to the character: I don’t know. Hard to say.
“The worst thing: That one is easier. Either when my friend Jennen was killed, or the time I spent in Utah. These are the things that I still remember after a long time, so they made a big impact. I don’t count the war because that happened to everyone.
“What kind of person do other people think the character is? You’d know better than I do — you’re their author, too. What I think they think… Some people have seen me as a reasonable friendly guy who laughs easily but keeps personal information a secret. Some people have seen me as a demonic thing that must be hunted down and destroyed. And yes, I’m talking about this because I know it makes you uncomfortable, and I’m pissed about being asked all these questions.
“Is the character capable of lying? Are you serious? I’ve spent how many years lying to people just by passing myself off as human?” He shakes his head.
“Next item. Capable of stealing? Sure, I’d do it, under some circumstances. If you mean, would I shoplift for the hell of it, or mug some old lady and take her money, the answer is no.
“Why does the author like or dislike the character?” He laughs. “Not so much fun when you’re the one put on the spot, is it? So… Why do I think you like me? Well, being outside the story ever-so-slightly at the moment, I can hear you thinking, and I know the fiction you’ve been saturating your brain with lately, ‘feeding the fear’ with that story with ‘proto-Bob’ and all. I’m not much like the protagonist from that story, but I know you feel a connection to me the same way you felt a connection to him. You can imagine yourself in my shoes — scary as that sounds. Hell, for all I know, the whole thing is because you’re an empath. Ha! Didn’t think I was gonna bring that up, did you? Fair is fair, dear author.
“Fears: Government agents whose job it is to hunt down ‘aliens.’ Religious nuts who think that any person who isn’t human is a demon. Any situation that involves the word vivisection. Losing all my friends due to the passage of time. Questions like, What are you?
“Leader? Follower? Dropout? Generally, I fall between leader and follower, depending on the situation. I’d probably be described as a beta wolf — I don’t want to be in charge, but I can be if no one else is able or willing to do the job.
“Enemies: Right now? No idea. That’s one advantage of living too long: your enemies all die off and leave you in peace until you get new ones. I imagine those marines hate me — I did attack one of their people, although it was in self-defense — but I don’t think they’d try to kill me or whatever.
“Physical appearance: Right now, too thin. Gaunt, even. And pale.
“Height and weight: I’m five-foot-eleven. Don’t ask me to convert that into metric. My current weight is around a hundred twenty pounds, but I should be closer to one sixty-five.
“Type of body: What used to be called ecto-mesomorphic, I think. I’ve got proportionately long limbs, but I’ve also got broad shoulders and I put on muscle — although dense rather than bulky — easily. Look in a mirror and scale down, if you want a visual. Birthmarks or scars: Oh, are there ever… In order of acquisition, there are the iron-burn scars across the palm and fingers of my left hand, and the small round ones on the back of that hand and on my shoulder from when Bowen shot me with a dart gun… Can I take this opportunity to ask that you not decide to give me any more?
“Handicaps: I think that having this ‘severe aversion to ferrous material’ counts as a handicap, since it’s damn near impossible to avoid the stuff entirely.
“Complexion: Mid-range ‘Caucasian,’ I suppose. No freckles. No five-o’clock shadow — d’uh.
“Occupation/profession: Last profession, starship captain.” He smiles without humor. “Before that… Does ‘laboratory specimen’ count? No? I earned a living as a furniture maker for years.
“Quality of work performed: I’m afraid I was a terrible laboratory specimen. I mean, I escaped the lab… Ruined their plans, too, just when they finally had all the special lab equipment finally ready to go. Yeah, sure, I’ll stop now. I can’t say how good I was as a ship’s captain. I lost most of my people –” He pauses for a minute. “I lost most of my people, but I did get the survivors home. And thanks for letting me know that for now — I know I don’t know it yet, in story.
“Military service: Never. Do you seriously think I could pass a physical exam?
“Favorite place in the world: Which world?
“Least favorite place: Utah.
“Apparent age: Twenty-four.
“Addictions: Walotsky says that my coffee habit doesn’t count as an addiction.
“Does the character smoke or drink? I’ve never smoked. I did drink occasionally — even been drunk, which is more than you can say — but I never indulged very often. Not safe, y’know?
“First memory: Now I know you’re joking.
“Siblings: I have a younger brother, Rowan.
“Worst thing that could happen: Keep in mind that this does not meet Ms. Bujold’s requirement for something that would be good for the plot, since I wouldn’t survive it. The worst thing that could happen is that the people on this other ship that just found us decide that, since I’m obviously an alien trying to look like the ‘real’ captain of the Excalibur — and doing a bad job of it, too — they’ll just take this opportunity to study the extraterrestrial life-form that has fallen into their hands… You do this to me and I swear I’ll haunt you forever.
“Most at ease when…: When I’m around people who know who and what I am and don’t care. Not that that has happened in a long time, but I remember.
“Most ill at ease when…: When I have to worry about what the people around me know about me, or worry if they’re suspicious.
“Which of the 7 deadly sins?: Weird question. If any of them, I’d have to choose wrath. I’m usually an easygoing person, but sometimes I get so angry I’m violent. You remember what eventually happened to Bowen, right? All because he’d harmed an innocent bystander, and that pissed me off.
“Which is the 7 virtues?: Patience, maybe?
“Optimist or pessimist? Optimist. Despite everything. Otherwise I’d be dead.
“Introvert or extrovert: Gregarious introvert. Otherwise I’d have gotten myself into worse trouble long before this.
“Character’s dark secret: Oh, come on! You use it in your own tagline on those writing forums! I’m not going to spell it out for you.
“Does anyone else know? You mean, besides my author? Yeah. A few friends of mine. Darren knows. And Alex Walotsky and Mike Jemez. And Elena, of course; she knew. And Geoffrey. They’re dead now, though, so maybe they don’t count. And Daeren isn’t here — gods only know where he is.
“If yes, did the character tell them? I let them find out. Best I can manage.”