I came across a tool on the web today: the Fiction Writer's Character Chart by Rebecca Sinclair (html version here; pdf version here). I've never used such things in the past, but this time I thought I might give it a try. While writing my first novel, I had the leisure to get to know my characters gradually as the story unfolded. Now that I have a much tighter schedule for the second book, it might help to complete some of these charts in order to become familiar with my characters more quickly.
You can't really know a character until he/she starts to reveal him/herself in the actual writing: in his responses to events, in the actions that he undertakes, in the details that surface through his interaction with other characters and with his environment. In one sense, spending time filling out a chart about the characters' likes and dislikes, habits and strengths, might better be spent writing actual scenes. However, filling out the charts will cause me to think in a focused way about each character; it might make writing some scenes a little easier, in that I won't have to stop and create every reaction, gesture and thought from scratch. Sinclair's questionnaire seems to be a good one, in that it doesn't dwell solely on superficial issues. She asks you to delve deeply into the character's psyche: for example, how does the character think others perceive her? How does she react to problems? If she could change something about herself, what would it be? Thinking about some of these things ahead of time might make for richer scenes with more psychological depth.
Would my characters in TMOS have been different if I'd thought about some of these issues beforehand? Perhaps, in small ways. At the very least, the questionnaire might have prompted scenes that were never written into the book as it now stands. Now, the beginning of a new project, is the time to stretch myself and try a different approach. My great fear as I embark on this second novel is that I'll wind up rewriting the same book in a different wrapping. If I spend some serious time with these character worksheets before I jump into the story, I will at least be able to ensure that the new book's characters are thoroughly different people than Jollande et al.
Have you ever used character worksheets or something similar? What was the result?