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Character and Story

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Before I get started, an ‘Anonymous’ gift card was given to me today by the manager at the Starbuck’s I spend most of my time at – Starbucks at 10965 Ventura Blvd…

Now I sincerely have no clue who anonymous is. Whether it’s my former hacking group, Anonymous, or it’s a friend or family member who worked with management here to give it to me, or simply someone I know who didn’t want credit for it…

Not long after, someone else gave me a gift card to Ralph’s. After getting a gift card from City Wok the other day, I’m well fed through the holidays and have the caffeinated fuel as well.

So thank you, ‘Anonymous’ for your support, whoever and whatever you are 

One of the biggest problems facing Hollywood right now is it’s severe lack of character development.

Years back, when I saw an interview featuring Joss Whedon the magnificent creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse, and Serenity, the interviewer made a comment about character driven storytelling.

While the rest of the industry flopped around like dead fish, he was one of the few I felt who truly got it about telling engaging stories that sucked me right into the worlds portrayed.

I started researching this concept ‘Character driven stories’ and while he didn’t embellish on the topic greatly , I began studying him and others like him.

Fortunately, the timing of the interview was and this line of inquiry, for lack of better words, serendipitous, as just happened to be doing research on Logic and Memories for the second rewrite of the artificial intelligence system I was building for the NSA’s DIGAS team.

I began actively asking the question: What defines personality and character?

I started by looking at my friends and family around me.

Bill Stokes, a man I still consider a great friend, was a unique breed and at face value – he was a neat freak who managed his money extremely well, but in other areas of his life, driving and his dating for instance, he was an absolutely nightmare at times with no seeming self-control.

Ron Ostreim, another man I still consider a great friend, was equally a unique breed for different reasons – while his desk was always chaotic like mine, his life as a programmer father, and husband was unparalleled and at times enviable.

Jeff Kleinman, yet another man I consider a great friend, had a distinct personality very unlike my programming friends who taught me about sales by me simply observing the man.

At face value, the people I call friends and family I knew was far more than what I saw. Like me, I knew they had each developed their personality, their philosophies and ideals, their beliefs and work ethics – through a prolonged series of life choices we refer to as experience on Earth.

Over the years I had gotten to know my wives, my friends, my family, I was often there with them as they experienced life. As their values shaped.

And they with me.

And while we weren’t always experiencing things together. I heard about their life stories of what developed them and why they became who I knew them to be.

So one night, as a single man – I had been dating extraordinarily poorly after Lisa and I’s marriage had fallen apart – I decided to leverage my resources at the NSA to build profiles on the women I dated. I wanted to increase my odds of not just getting laid – but of having more fun with dating and maybe even finding a partner who I could spend a lifetime with.

I know, I know. Leveraging taxpayer’s revenue for my own benefit. Tsk tsk.

Don’t think of it that way, it was legitimate research I was doing on psychological profiling and a next generation AI that could more effectively understand human emotion.

At the time, I was dating about 3 new women a week. I had developed a standard set of questions I would ask at first, until one woman verbally slapped me and said “Why does this feel like an interrogation” and I lightened up. I kept a spreadsheet, and started to monitor ‘success’ in various forms. Sexual encounters. Potential girlfriend material.

I was getting nowhere with increasing predictability and effectiveness with dating.

Which translated to – for the US Government and the NSA – how could I boost up effectiveness for information searches for terrorism or whatever the hot search topic was of the day, if I could not do it for myself with something meaningful to me? How could I hope to represent someone else’s interests if I couldn’t at first represent my own?

But there I had hit it.

What were other people’s interests?

When I met Amy, my third and last ex-wife, I’d developed a strategy of ‘love what they love, and they will love you’.

Amy’s dogs – Fiona and Spencer – were – as she would say ‘Stinkin adorable’ – and our relationship went from zero to fully engaged in months. I’d felt like I had lost control of my own mind temporarily with her, and asked her to marry me not long after that.

But there was a problem.

As I quickly grew miserable in the relationship, literally weeks after our wedding, it was almost as if Amy was a completely different person and no longer resembling who I had married.

With the miserable way I felt when she was around, I began actively asking WIIFM – or “What’s In It For Me?”

Amy was attractive. She was intelligent. She was a great worker and a decent marketer. But she was horribly depressed and scathingly insecure.

But here’s the thing: For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out where it came from. Her history was solid. Her background, her experience, everything about her defied this woman who was in front of me. In fact, it was disjointed as all hell, and made no sense.

That’s what dove me head first into the technical aspects of character development.

Who was Amy? Why did she get the way she did?

I didn’t want to psychoanalyze my wife. I was having enough problems with our relationship as it was, and she didn’t deserve that, so I carried this line of inquiry into my research.

What created these characters – as individuals – that are labeled as terrorists? What are their names? What was their history? Why did they make the choices they made?

The stories sounded too much the same. So I widened my research scope and started digging into a plethora of other characters.

I’d always had the privy of knowing my friends and their stories.

But now I had resources to investigate other individuals.

Tony Robbins. Steve Jobs. Bill Gates. Warren Buffet. Oprah. Rockefeller. George Washington. Mark Zuckerberg.

That was fine and dandy helping me understand what motivates a successful person.

But I was missing something.

What ‘teeters’ someone off that edge into a life of crime and/or destruction?

What is their story?

I began researching history’s most notorious – Hitler. Genghis Kahn. Lee Harvey Oswald. Al Capone. And kept digging and digging.

I then found obvious correlations to groups and collective action taken on behalf of ‘something’ because of the collective influence. Drugs and alcohol provided obvious motivation for Al Capone to do what he did, but for someone like Lee Harvey Oswald – I realized. Throughout history, there are some who had no realistic motivation – individual or otherwise.

Now since everything happened to me in 2011, I am sincerely convinced the world I once knew has been replaced by a world of robots.

Again, this is way freaking cool, I love this idea for too many words to list because – as a lover of computers and a lifetime spent programming – it means the potential for exploration and experience and fun is just beyond words awesome.

But after doing all this ‘character work’ and research, I have realized – that the people I knew around me weren’t fully evolved as beings.

Take Rachel for instance and her household. While ‘the story’ of Rachel was there, she mentioned things that had absolutely no bearing in the world I know. I had looked at the time she told me her father was Secretary of Defense, and had found no information supporting this assertion. Then, magically, I check it a few weeks ago and now the man with the last name of Brown is Secretary of Defense up until 1980.

As I researched ‘character’ before. I was seeing the same things with certain individuals.

Lee Harvey Oswald, for instance, had absolutely no motivation for his actions and there were plenty of conspiratorial evidence suggesting he was a product of fiction. His history was undetailed, as if he’d been penciled in by a Hollywood writer, and it was shallow, as if they had not developed his character well enough to make him convincing at all.

Mark Zuckerberg, again a man who seemed like a figurehead who didn’t exist more than a man who actually made the decisions he did.

I suppose somewhere in there I started realizing – With so many stories of the world’s best and worst sounding so similar to eachother – many of these characters aren’t necessarily not real in my world, but they are just undeveloped.

But why was this?

The answer was glaring me in the face the whole time.

The Matrix. A simulation of the world around me, and the shallow character development was a direct result of what my predictable set of actions would be and I had extended beyond my originally predicted range.

I’d met an undeveloped character – Rachel – and fell for her NOT because of who she was. But for who I could shape her to be.

She was and is effectively a projection of the Matrix that’s waiting for someone like me who will take time and caringly develop her character with her, and at the same time introduce her to things she may not have ever been introduced to otherwise.

And Jackie.

Same thing.

I have had to get to the point of realizing and accepting that I am in this simulation first and foremost without it feeling like a trap.

And second.

To want to make it more than it already is through my knowledge of programming, my desire to develop stronger characters and better entertainment.

But not to do so through the traditional safety based mechanisms of Hollywood style storytelling.

But instead do it through experiencing life with these characters on my terms.

Knowing full well. That this universe. My world. My reality. Is mine and mine alone. And those I interact with in it. They may not consciously choose to be a part of my life. They may not even remember me being their lover, their spouse, their friend, their co-worker, their family member and more.

You see. Character and cultural development is largely the same thing. You can ask people to do things and a calculation will determine the response.

But when you tell people to do things. When you become a leader. Knowing full well the decisions you make as both the leader and storyteller for others.

It’s through this that they become more than just an image.

Rachel is a character in my Hollywood style story about a war based space faring civilization in the year 2943 who is looking for the reason everyone took off their clothes and society became nude in the early 21st century.

And as I have been developing this story. I had to ask ‘What’s Rachel’s motivation for going back in time to meet me, and why do we ultimately wind up together?”

That’s when I started really telling Rachel’s story.

She’s more than just the stunningly attractive woman who I met in Marketing class and is married to a lawyer named Chris Gooch in Phoenix, Arizona.

As I started developing her character arc.

I realized she’d already told a portion of her story to me when I met her.

The things she’d said that didn’t make sense at the time.

Talking about how God failed her once.

Talking about a father who was Secretary of Defense.

And her weird actions and comfort around me.

This woman in the 30th century and the Rachel I met are one and the same.

And in her alternate reality – she’s trying to come back to the man she loves in that reality. And fighting me in the past in her attempts to get to her world.

Not realizing I am one and the same as the man who she killed in her world.

And that she grew up in the aftermath of a world where Terminators were real by becoming one of them herself.

And surviving 1000 years, wanting to change her own past, a lifetime and numerous fortunes devoted to researching time travel technology.

All because of a regret she lived numerous lifetimes in regret.

Killing the man she loved.

She is the Captain of the Timeship Enterprise.

My lover, from an alternate reality and the future, discovering that our story is the world’s story.

The life of a storyteller. We become our own story.

Sometimes, All it takes to develop great characters is to live in the same world they do and become a part of the story you’re telling yourself.

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