Are you a secret warrior? Do you wish you were more assertive? Do you have some other character trait that you keep well hidden? Perhaps you’re frustrated that your life didn’t turn out how you’d wanted or hoped it would.
I’m going to show my age here, I remember a T.V. show called Joe-90 in the late 1960’s. For those of you that don’t recall, it featured a boy (Joe McClaine) whose brain could be filled with knowledge and skills, implanted by some fancy machine. It enabled him to become a super-spy.
An idea which was also pursued in the film Total Recall, based on the short story by Phillip K Dick.
Or for those who can’t go back that far, a more recent variation on the same theme was Dollhouse (2009); again people were given knowledge and skills by mean of some sort of science which implanted it in their brains.
Where is this leading, you may wonder? Well, the idea of having an alter ego that could be downloaded into your head so you could be what you wanted has always fascinated me.
I could be all the things that I haven’t, I think I’ve led a boring life, although to others it may seem to have been interesting. The trouble is, as Bob McClane from ReKall says in the 1990 movie version of Total Recall, “Whenever you go on holiday, you’re always there, it’s the same old you.” Strangely enough, the man’s surname in the movie is just about the same as Joe-90’s was. I bet you never spotted that.
Look…, I’m sorry, I can’t help being a geek!
I think that goes a long way to explaining why other people always seem to be more interesting. Because they’re not us. They might think the same if we asked them.
Anyhow, back to the old alternate personality. If it was good enough for the T.V. and movies, why can’t I interchange personalities in my head? In fact, I do, without all the flashing lights and technical wizardry.
I can make my characters behave in the way I’d like to, maybe all writers do it. If you’re shy you can have an outgoing hero, or a fearless one or whatever. It’s a way of being what you’re not. Or alternatively, they can behave in the way that you’d like those around you to behave. So your character can be an extension of you or someone you know.
You can create a whole community of people, behaving exactly how you’d like your social circle to behave because very often, we’re surrounded by the same sort of people who would inhabit any world anywhere; all that’s different is the setting.
This also works in the opposite way, for the sake of realism I find myself trying to think like my characters would, to do that you have to become them, see things from their point of view. That’s where the observation comes in, you have to spend all the time you are out and about watching that way people behave, adding it to the way you want your story to develop and seeing where the two fit together.
You may find that there are places where you have to modify their behaviour, a bit like you do in real life, but in your head, you can get away with doing things that you wouldn’t dare, or even attempt whilst you are stuck in reality.
The funny thing is, once you start off, you’ll find that your creations develop lives of their own. You can equip them with the basics, i.e. good or bad, helpful or whatever but once you set them in motion in your story they will find their own voice and do or say things that may surprise you. Or at least mine do. As the persona of the character develops in my head, I find that they fill out and become more and more real. The problem then becomes separating them from the reality that I currently have to inhabit. And they move from being an extension of me or my desires to independence.
Once they achieve independence, they continue to have adventures, long after the reason that they were brought into existence for has gone.
For example, I created Miles Goram as the hero in Ribbonworld. After he finished the job I had set him, he demanded more adventures, so I wrote a sequel or two for him. The same went for Dave Travise and Andorra Pett, they have all outgrown the original story, all found other things to do and all become so much more than I thought they would when they were just an extension of my psyche. And they almost seem real to me.
Which brings us back to the original idea. Could you really have a person’s entire character on a hard-drive, ready to insert into a willing brain? Would it be static or would it develop in use? In the end, could it outgrow its original design and be impossible to expunge?
And, if you can create alternate realities in your head and make them seem real, do you really need it?
Let me know what you think, please leave a comment below.