Pep & Prompt #13: Swipe Right

Humans! They’re crazy! And inscrutable! And just plain weird!

Yes indeedy. That’s why you’re a writer. To scrute the inscrutable. And possibly one of the most scrutey things about humans is the difference between who they think they are and who they actually are.

Despite spending an entire lifetime stuck in your own body, you are probably the person who knows yourself the least – no matter how much self-awareness you think you have.

Take the Dunning-Kruger effect as a case in point. The DKE is a kind of cognitive bias in which people assess themselves as way more capable than they are. The more incapable you actually are, the more capable you think you are.

(For writers this is obviously a problem because we can get stuck in an infinite imposter-DKE loop, where the second we identify ourselves as simply feeling impostery and actually being perfectly capable, we then shift to think that because we felt capable for a millisecond, we must actually be suffering from the DKE).

The face we show the world is very different to the face we live with inside of us. We can spend years trying to equalise, to show the word that inner face, or we can spend our lives trying to exacerbate that inner-outer inequality until one doesn’t even come close to resembling the other.

When it comes to story, this duality can be a hugely powerful driver. We often talk about what your character wants versus what they need. What they think they want is going to be driven by the face they put on for the outside world, and what they need is going to be dictated by the little person inside them, meekly knocking saying ‘err hi, hello, don’t forget about me please’.

So. In. Out. Real. Still real but somewhat skewed and affected.

Easy, right?

TIME TO WRITE

Few things highlight the entirely constructed sense of self we want the world to see than our social media profiles. Worse still, DATING PROFILES.

Yeah that’s right. You’re gonna make a Tinder profile for your character. OH THE LOLS. Or if your character isn’t quite the hook up kind, go for Bumble. But you get the idea.

What does your character think of herself? What does she actually want the world to see? What does she want to attract? What does she want to hide?

Start with photos (four-ish). This is tricky since your protagonist isn’t a real person, but the important thing here is the pose, and you can described that using your writerly words. Are they staring defiantly at the camera? Are they sipping a glass of Malbec on the slopes of a Mediterranean vineyard while staring into the distance? Are they wearing a Diana Princess of Wales t-shirt that may or may not be ironic no one is quite sure?

If you do want the visuals, there are plenty of stock image sites out there that you can browse, and you can even browse by model, so that helps for consistency. Also this website is CREEPY AS ALL HELL but great for finding fictional people. (If you’ve done our exercise where you imagine your character as a famous person ready for the film of your book, then you’re also sorted.)

Then the bio. You get 500 characters. What is your character going to say about themselves? How will they present themselves to the world?

For bonus points, swipe right and see what their date says about them in reality versus their profile…

Gif of the cast of Schitt's Creek fighting over a phone while Eugene Levy asks "which way do you swipe to get rid of this one?"

Done it yet? Show us your dating profiles on the writing forum!

Sarah Lewis

Sarah Lewis

Sarah is one half of Writers' HQ. She writes a lot of short bios about herself.

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