Long Live the New Flesh! (or, Creating Characters Through Social Media)

Operation Electric Forever began this weekend with a cold open, a boy lying amongst the fallout of some unknown adventure. But who is this boy? Who is this character? Does he even exist?

Well, of course. Of course he exists. But is it in the same way that you and I exist, or even how other fictional characters exist?

Characters within digital fiction have the opportunity to take on entirely independent lives, lives that seem (on the outside at least), just as real as “real” people.

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Digital and social medias have allowed for incredibly diverse tactics when it comes to character development. In traditional texts, such as novels and short stories, characters normally exist within the confines of the page. Gregor Samsa grew up in his small apartment before turning magically into a giant bug in Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis. There he stayed and developed. He never came out of the page, never talked to the reader in a literal sense. But when we bring a character to life in a world of Facebook, Twitter, Netflix and mobile phones… well, things get interesting.

One of the methods I’ll be exploring in Operation Electric Forever is using social media to “create” my central characters. In fact, over the last hour I’ve been putting the finishing touches on a Facebook profile that is beginning to look like the real thing.

With Facebook, you can paint an incredibly vivid picture of your character with nothing but a few button clicks. Where-as in traditional media where we find out about characters’ likes and dislikes through their actions and speech, in digital fiction we can show them through an actual list of “Likes”.

Though this violates a long-held rule of writing, that of “show, don’t tell”, I believe that using this system allows for a massive number of character development possibilities. For example, you see that the character has “liked” the movies Fight Club and Donnie Darko. Immediately, you begin to get a sense of the type of young man they are. They might have grown up in the early 2000s, maybe been a bit “angsty” during that time. They’re probably a big fan of The Pixies and so what would that mean? What sort of person do we associate with nineties/naughties emo rock? We begin to make assumptions based on our own experiences and from there the character begins to  grow in different directions in each readers mind.

This, of course, all draws back to the theory of social media as performance. Every one of us, while using Facebook, is creating a fictionalised version of ourselves, whether we realise it or not. We’re building a simplified presentation of our own character in 1s and 0s, a sort of haemonculus that we think best represents us to the people that we think will be viewing our profiles. We’re all telling stories through our pages in sporadic episodic format. Each status update is a piece of character development, each “Like” is a new journey to follow, each photo is an illustration.

Another interesting benefit of the social media character is that they can actually be social. When was the last time you had a conversation with a fictional character? In digital texts, this is more than possible, in fact, it’s encouraged! Public engagement can drive a character and their surrounding story down strange and unexpected paths. Every single person can now be seen as a driving force behind fiction. Every person becomes both reader, author and character within Internet texts. Even by simply liking or sharing this blog post you are taking part in a fictional world.

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Operation Electric Forever will continue this week, with an introduction to our unlikely hero. I think it will be very interesting to see what “he” likes and shares via his Facebook page. I can’t wait to catch his updates and see where he goes. Who knows, he might even escape from my control? Let’s hope not, yeah?

And I hope that you’ll join me in creating these characters. I’d encourage every reader of Operation Electric Forever to follow every link and lead they can and to “add”, chat and share with the characters of the text. In this way, you will all be contributing to the development of the character and the story.

Look out for more information, more links and more chapters of Operation Electric Forever this week!

Sincerely,
The Digital Representation of James Rudd

Luke Bracken

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Operation Electric Forever, was created during the SA Writers Centre Digital Writer in Residence program during 2016.


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