For those who don't know, a character data sheet is a list of things about a character - name, age, what they're wearing now, what they had for breakfast, what did they dream about last night, what is their favourite/least favourite food etc. Sometimes the questions are mundane - what sort of car do they drive - or quirky - if they were a piece of furniture, what would they be?
The data sheet was presented, and the writers dutifully scribbled their answers. Me too, although I think the character data sheet is one of the more pointless tasks for a writer to do. Why? I hear you cry. Lots of books/teachers insist that the character data sheet is an essential part of creating a character. To which I say: Phooey!
The answers are simply made up by the writer. They're not genuine reflections of a character, just where the writer's imagination lands them on the spur of the moment. Give anyone a data sheet, and they can come up with answers which can amuse/entertain/fill an awkward moment but they are superficial responses, ungrounded in anything real.
What makes a person real? How do you 'know' someone in real life? By what they had for breakfast? I think not, unless you truly believe that everyone who enjoyed a bowl of Cornflakes this morning has an identical personality. You know people by what they do. It's their actions that reveal character. So to start building a personality with made-up data is daft, in my opinion. Far better to write scenes that show them interacting with other people and things, and understand their personality through that.
So, why do they keep turning up in classes? Because it sounds logical. Know all the information about someone's life and you will 'know' them, except you don't, until you explore the reasons behind their choices - but the character data sheet doesn't go that far.
Secondly, I don't think it's coincidence that the people who seem most keen on data sheets are non-writers and beginners. Put it like this, getting a group of students to fill in a data sheet and then read them out cheerfully fills at least half an hour of teaching time - you could probably stretch it out to an hour at a push.
Thirdly, if you fill in a character data sheet you feel you've done something positive to promote your writing. OK, you haven't actually done any real writing, but the sheet was at least something....
I've never done a character data sheet for my writing. When I need to know what a character had for breakfast I make it up there, on the spot. The decision is based on what I know about the character's internal make-up - their hopes, their fears, their conflicts - all of which I've learned about through their actions and thoughts.
I can see that I'm laying myself open to an accusation that my characters aren't 'real' and that may be true. But I don't see how knowing what they had for breakfast would make any difference to that at all.
Over to you - is there anyone out there who'll defend the character data sheet as a means of discovering character?