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A Quiz Actually Helpful to Writers

photo adapted / Horia Varlan

If you have a Facebook account, you’ve no doubt had the opportunity to take a plethora of quizzes.

Which Disney princess are you?

What Mexican food are you?

What is your stripper name?

Amusing? Perhaps. Creative time-wasters? Down to the last one.

Here’s a quiz, however, that will actually help you with your writing process. It was constructed by a highly qualified friend of mine, Dr. Katherine Ramsland, who holds graduate degrees in clinical psychology, forensic psychology, criminal justice, and philosophy (an MFA is soon to be added).

Originally published on her popular blog at Psychology Today [1], “Shadow Boxing: a blog that probes the mind’s dark secrets,” the quiz assesses your observational quotient or “OQ,” and places you on a scale of inward to outward focus. Knowing which end of the scale you gravitate toward can help you identify your natural strengths as a writer.

Ramsland defines observational intelligence as:

The ability to observe one’s surroundings, including the people in it, and to understand what the details show.

We each have an OQ, but according to Ramsland, people oriented in an interior direction have to work harder at adding important story details than people with an external orientation.

This is good for a writer to know, since being observant is a crucial trait for both the author building the story and the protagonist delivering it. Yet observation is not a mad, natural skill for everyone. “Innies” tend to miss a lot. I find it interesting that Ramsland herself, who writes about externally-detailed processes such as crime scene investigation, confesses to being an “innie.” Knowing this informs where she will have to exert more energy.

This quiz can be an eye-opener when it comes to your personal relationships as well. When my husband and I shared results, it explained away as innate traits things we’d previously seen as inexplicable downfalls.

The first question, for example, asks us to rate how true the following statement feels:

I am alert to the environment around me.

On a scale of 0 (not true of me) to 2 (that’s me), my husband would have given me a “0”. I am so often lost in the riveting cloud of thoughts unspooling in my mind, that each time we leave a hotel room, he gets ready to corral me with his arm, knowing I’ll head the wrong direction in search of the elevator. (But seriously, does he not understand that once I come to a dead end, I can turn around and find my way? The way I see it, there’s a health bonus: extra steps!)

I, however, gave myself a “1” on that question, because sometimes, I do notice the darnedest things. For example, I just noticed the light was left on in our closet, and thought, “Did my husband leave it that way all night?”


Take the quiz

Your turn! You have 3 options for each item: 0 = not true of me, 1 = sometimes or sort of true, 2 = that’s me!

I am:

____1. alert to the environment around me.

____2. aware of my preferences for furnishing a room.

____3. good at following directions to specific places.

____4. generally not curious about the contents of a sealed envelope.

____5. only basically skilled at assessing another person’s moods.

____6. quite perceptive about subtle changes in a room or property.

____7. only vaguely attuned to how I feel.

____8. attentive to the significance of items in someone’s else home.

____9. aware of where the exits are in any room I enter.

____10. easily distracted during a long project.

____11. observant of the color of the walls when I enter an unfamiliar room.

____12. confident of arriving at unfamiliar destinations.

____13. able to draw quick inferences from appearances.

____14. unable to quickly adopt another’s perspective.

____15. attuned to scene details in a novel.

____16. able to quickly estimate the number of people in a room.

____17. uninterested in keeping a dream journal.

____18. alert to what people are wearing.

____19. aware of my thoughts most often when I’m stuck.

____20. alert to subtle sounds around me, even when working on a project.

The results…

Add up your score and compare it to the chart below:

30-40: You’re an Outie, so you naturally notice and remember things around you, and have only average interest in your inner life

20-29: You’re a mix of interests, with some natural attunement to your environment, so you can improve your OQ quickly with active reminders to yourself to pay attention.

10-19: You tend toward an interior life, but you do pay attention to detail. You show more interest in atmosphere than sensory detail, and would probably benefit more from exercises than reminders.

Below 10: You’re an Innie. You’re internally attuned, and for writing about appearances and settings, you need more balance.


…and what they mean

I gave this quiz at one of the writing retreats I host and participants had scores ranging from 8 to 30! Knowing where you fall on the scale can help you be a better writer.

The revision action list for someone with an OQ of 8 would be to ground the character in the real world through connection to setting, and make sure to add in plenty of sensory images.

The revision action list for someone with an OQ of 30 would be to make sure all that lush description actually serves an inner arc that moves the character through the story.

So let’s go back to the initial quizzes mentioned: Disney princess, Mexican food, stripper name. If I told you that my answers were Mulan, guacamole, and Eleanor Hoesevelt, would you think you had a handle on me?

Mmm, probably not.

But what if I told you that one year my uncle made off with a needlepoint that I had just completed, took it south with him for the winter to get it framed, and completely surprised me with it the next spring because I didn’t even know it had gone missing? Or, that because I’m often in the public eye, I obsess over what I’ll wear to events at which I’ll be highly photographed so it won’t look like I own only one outfit, and yet, if you asked me what the keynote speaker I’d just watched for a half hour had worn, I wouldn’t be able to tell you? You’d get a good sense of me as a person.

And, it turns out, as a writer.

My husband, who scored 23, is much more attuned to observing the outer world than I am, so will naturally insert more physical description and sensory detail in his storytelling than is strictly necessary. But he also always knows where he is, which came in handy in large amusement parks when the kids were young. With a score of 10, I am much more inwardly focused. I will reach for the inner conflict and emotional turning points before I ever get around to anchoring all that in a world of real sensations. In amusement parks, I’ve learned to pick up a map, and if I lose it, ask directions.

Please know there is no right or wrong, good or bad here. Great writers exist all over this spectrum. Katherine Ramsland, the designer of this quiz, admits to scoring very low, and yet she is the author of 68 books, ranging from vampire culture to ghost hunting to serial killers to crime scene investigation. Her latest book, released in July, was How to Catch a Killer [2] (Sterling, 2020). I urge anyone writing in related fiction genres to check out these fascinating resources. Many thanks to Katherine for letting us reprint the quiz.

Now that my secret is out, please don’t worry about me. Despite my low OQ, I see plenty in the world that interests me, although I’ll admit it’s usually because an unknown motivation has snagged my interest.

And if while mulling that motivation over in my car, I miss my exit to the Philadelphia airport and land in New Jersey, instead? I’ll find my way back. Now that I know my OQ, I keep my GPS locked and loaded, and have already factored in extra time so I don’t miss my flight.

How about you—are you an innie, or an outie? Does this seem to be reflected in your writing process? Take the quiz and report back!

About Kathryn Craft [3]

Kathryn Craft (she/her) is the author of two novels from Sourcebooks, The Art of Falling and The Far End of Happy. A freelance developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com [4] since 2006, Kathryn also teaches in Drexel University’s MFA program and runs a year-long, small-group mentorship program, Your Novel Year. Learn more on Kathryn's website.