Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Virtual Reality

by Jennie Bentley

Last week, I had occasion to write a bio. No more than 100 words, to present myself – i.e. my alter ego – as well as my new series of DIY Home Renovation mysteries to the world.

For those of you who have never tried, let me tell you that it’s a lot harder than it seems. So much hangs on those few words, and the pressure builds and builds until you go find a bag of cookies and dive in. Maybe it’s just me – my writing style tends to be chatty – but the shorter it is, the more difficult it is for me to do. I mean, why use ten words to express something that can be expressed so much better with twenty?

So it took me most of the day, much longer than it should have, but I did it, eventually. (If you feel so inclined, you can read the final masterpiece here. And if it seems to you to be just a smidgeon longer than 100 words, you’re right. I did my best, but I can’t do miracles.) And when it was finished, I sent it off to our brilliant web maven, whose job it is to put it on the ITW site. And of course, because that’s the way I am (insecure), I sent it with an apologetic email telling her to rewrite it any way she wanted.

She wrote back that she wouldn’t change a word, that it’s witty and charming and expressive... just like me.

We’ll take a break here, to let that sentence sink in, and to give all of you who know me time to recover.

When I had picked myself up from the floor and gotten my hysterical laughter in check, I set her straight. I’m not witty or charming or expressive at all... in person. That’s why I took up writing. It’s easy to be witty, charming, and expressive on paper. Just like it’s easy to be witty, charming and expressive online.

I like to think of it as being virtually charming. We have virtual flowers and virtual cocktail parties and virtual birthday cards, right? Well, I’ve decided I have virtual charm. In person, not so much. I’m a bit of a wallflower, to tell the truth. I do all right when there’s just me and one or maybe two other people, but I avoid parties like the plague, and I’ll go to great lengths to avoid speaking in public. But online... oh, baby! Online, I can be anything I want to be. Charming, check. Witty, no problem. Expressive... hey, I can take as long as I want to choose the right words and put them together in the perfect sequence, and it’s not difficult to be clever under those circumstances.

So what about you? Do you have a virtual personality? One that’s different from the personality you have when you’re dealing with real people in the real world? Do you find it easier to be funny, charming, and clever when it’s just you and the computer? If so, welcome to the club. There are a lot of us out here. And if not, if you’re one of those naturally witty, self confident, charming people, be warned: the real me could seriously learn to dislike you.


Anonymous said...

Jennie, hi. I'm not sure if the virtual me is wittier or more expressive, but I do feel more comfortable talking with words versus a verbal reply. This way, I can edit out all the 'Uhm"s and awkward pauses! Maybe a virtual cocktail party is the answer?

Annette said...

I used to be much more expressive and impressive on paper than in person. I remember writing a very clever resume and cover letter to a potential employer when I was fresh out of school. The letter earned me an interview. However, the interviewer was stuck with the real me and I could tell he wondered who the hell I was and what had I done with the author of that exqusite letter?

I didn't get the job.

However, I'm much better in person now. Standing in front of a room full of strangers, doing Downward Facing Dog while wearing yoga tights, one tends to get over the shyness factor real quick. Face-to-face is a piece of cake after that.

Joyce Tremel said...

I'm with you, Jennie. Put me in a room full of people and I turn into mush. If I actually have to speak to these people--well, it's not a pretty sight.

I'm definitely a wallflower in real life. I'm much chattier online.

Anonymous said...

I find that being witty in writing and on-line at some point leaks into my "real" personality. In person, it's not so much I'm not witty, as witty 15 minutes too late. By writing (and even commenting on blogs) I have quicker access to the humor and get the timing down right. Also, I learn to "edit out" the jokes where I go too far (one of my constant problems.)

Anonymous said...

Jennie, you need an avatar! One of those virtual cartoony things. Mine (well, okay, I don't actually have one, but I can conjure one in my imagination!) is half Wonder Woman with dashes of Dorothy Parker, Lillian Hellman and maybe a little Margaret Thatcher. Oh, and Catherine Deneuve, of course.

Anonymous said...

Guys, thanks! Glad I'm not the only one. Absolutely, Martha, virtual cocktails parties are the way to go. Over on the Good Girls Kill For Money blog, they have one every Friday.

Annette, yes, I've written brilliant cover letters, too, and then fallen flat on my face at the interview. If you're into yoga, you'll have to read my friend Diana Killian's new series of yoga mysteries. 'Corpse Pose' is due out in April.

Joyce, right there with you, babe. I'm signed up for Bouchercon and dreading the panels already.

Tory, uh-huh! The 15 minutes late thing is just exactly what I'm talking about.

Nancy, I have a Meez. Does that count? If I could figure out how, I'd post it.

Joyce Tremel said...

Annette and I are going to Bouchercon, too!

Anonymous said...

I'm also inept in person, although I'm generally not reluctant to get up in front of people and make a fool of myself. For this, I credit my low self-esteem. If you assume you're totally incompetent and everybody can tell just by looking at you, there's nothing left to avoid. And if you're really scared of everything, nothing stands out as particularly frightening, so you can walk down a dark alley alone at midnight with no more qualms than saying, "Good morning," to a neighbor.

Anonymous said...

I waited 15 minutes, but I still don't have a good answer to this one, Gina. Um... seriously? I wouldn't say I have low self-esteem, exactly. I think pretty highly of myself, actually. More highly than I ought, in DH's oft expressed opinion. What I don't have, is a very highly developed sense of humor (again, in DH's opinion). This was a joke, right? I hope it was, but I don't know you well enough to be sure.

Anonymous said...

Joyce and Annette, we'll have to arrange to meet. In the hotel bar, or something. I'll be staying at the 'other' hotel, the Radisson. The Art Deco architecture appealed to me more than the Sheraton, as did the cheaper price. :-)

Annette said...

Hmmmm...Did someone say cheap?

Yes, we'll definitely have to arrange to meet up while we're there.

As for the yoga series, I hope Diana didn't read my post here yesterday where I said something about yoga instructors as protagonists being a snooze. I only say that because I am one. Yoga instructor that is. Hopefully not a snooze.

Anyhow, before I put my proverbial foot any further into my mouth, I'll just say, I am looking forward to seeing Diana's new book. I'll keep an eye out for it.

Anonymous said...

I didn't say cheap, unfortunately. Just cheaper. I'm saving $20/day, I think. For some reason, the hotel reservation system gave me $155/night rather than the $175/night convention rate. Probably because I didn't mention the convention. I've worked in enough hotels to know that the convention rate isn't always the cheaper, so I figured it was worth a try. It's just me, though, a single, so maybe that makes a difference, if you guys are sharing.

Anonymous said...

Jennie -
Just make sure you know where you're staying. I attended a conference in Copenhagen a few years ago at which a friend had gone on line and found (she thought) a substantially cheaper rate than the listed conference rate at one of the hotels serving the conference. Only when she arrived in Denmark did she realize that the her hotel was part of a chain and wasn't in the same location as the one serving the conference. The one she'd made her reservation at was far from the conference site, so instead of just walking a block to the ferry in the morning she had to take public transportation across town.

Joyce Tremel said...

Jennie, Gina has a very dry sense of humor. Just wait till you get to know her!

I think the two hotels are connected by some kind of a walkway, aren't they?

Whenever I make reservations anywhere, I try a couple of different ways to get the lowest price. First I try the "internet price," then I try the "AAA price," then I call the hotel and see if they have any special unadvertised rates. Yes, I am the world's biggest cheapskate!

Anonymous said...

Gina, thanks for the advice. I've never been to Baltimore before, so having to tackle public transportation there would be scary. I have been to Copenhagen, actually, more than once, so that would be easier, strangely enough. The Radisson is the overflow hotel for the conference, and I think there's a walkway, or at least just a short sidewalk trip.

Joyce, thanks for the heads-up. I was a little worried there...!

Anonymous said...

Hi Jennie,

Great post. I don't know if I have a virtual personality, but I am much quieter and introverted than people outside my circle tend to believe. I guess that's why I became a writer.

Jamie Livingston said...

Jennie, your bio is perfect. A great way to intertwine you with your series. Oh, and about the murdering your spouse thing. I can so relate. After 11 years of renovating, I'm surprised my husband and I still speak to each other.
I have no virtual personality. When I go in public, I have to give myself a talking to, "Jamie, you will not blab on and on. You will listen, and not add your two cents. Hush now!"
The talk never works. But the funny thing, no one ever remembers me. So that's good. I guess?

Anonymous said...

Jamie, that's so funny. You're a blabber! Now, why didn't I guess that?

And Kristine, I swear I answered your comment earlier. I don't know where my answer went. Lost in cyberspace, probably. Or maybe I forgot to push the right button... You're quieter and more introverted than people think, huh? Sounds like you're putting on a good act.

Anonymous said...

Jennie: The act is all part of my plan. LOL!

Anonymous said...

Well, folks, looks like that's pretty much all. I'm outta here. But I'll be back next week, on Friday, which from now on will be my usual day. I'm an honorary Pittsburgher, and a bona fide Working Stiff, and from now on, the first Friday of every month is mine, all mine. See you then!

Anonymous said...

Hey, great post. I know what you mean--I write so much better than I speak, especially when something is important to me or I'm passionate about it. Congrats on wrapping that up and doing it so well.

Anonymous said...

Kathie, hi! I checked back one last time, and lo and behold! I had another comment. Thanks so much for stopping by and for encouraging me. Lovely to meet you, virtually.

Kelli Stanley said...

Well, my dear, I still beg to differ with you. ;) I'll always think you as charming, witty, etc. as that terrific bio you wrote! :)

Online, I think we can build and enhance something that is already there ... bring out characteristics that we may be used to hiding, or at least used to keeping in reserve.

And what is inside you is as terrific as your writing!

A public writing persona (like Hitchcock said about his films) is basically an author with the boring stuff left out. :)

Anonymous said...

Hah! Thanks for stopping by, Kelli! Your're brilliant and thought-provoking as usual.