Thursday, October 23, 2008

An Important Skill

The ability to create interesting characters is important even if you never plan to write a single line of fiction. I mentioned, in the last post, that this ability can be used in Second Life as well. I have dozens and dozens of unique characters that I have created as avatars in Second Life. This is great fun. It is good practice. And I have learned a great deal in the process. Where else, but in a virtual world, can you be some body else and see how some body else might experience the world. I have one character, for example, named Lowlife, who, as you might expect, comes from the lower end of the socio-economic ladder. His dress, boots, long hair, groups and profile comments all enhance his believability. The startling thing is that people talk to a guy named Lowlife in an entirely different way than they talk to a guy named Doctor. It is an extraordinary glimpse into the variety of experiences that different people have. If you find your way into Second Life, visit the third floor of Cosmos Academy and see a small subset of the many characters I have created.

However, this ability to create characters goes far beyond fiction and virtual worlds. You can also create characters in order to make a narrative argument. We saw a good example of this just recently in the presidential debates. "Joe the Plumber" was a fictional construct created to make a narrative argument about the effect of the two candidate's tax plans on the middle class. Unfortunately, for the McCain campaign, they were exposed because they tried to claim the fictional construct was real and the press exposed them. Had they just put him forth as an archetype character they may have gotten a lot more mileage out of it.

But, we can take this even further. You may want to sit down for this. YOU are a fictional construct also. People like to think they are 'real' or 'natural'. But, unless you are standing there naked and growling when you get hungry, you are a construct. We do not present ourselves to the world in our natural state. We construct persona and interact with the world through those constructed persona. What you decide to wear in the morning is part of that constructed persona. How you behave around friends is part of the image you are trying to create. The fact that you may behave differently around friends than you would around co-workers suggests that your construct is fairly complex. If you are not the person you want to be, or if you don't have enough friends, or if you are not interesting enough perhaps you need to work on the skill of creating interesting characters.

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