Fake Faces and Attention-Seekers

“How would you know you weren’t being a phony? The trouble is you wouldn’t.” – Holden Caulfield, The Catcher in the Rye

I’ve been thinking about fake people and people whose main motivation for their actions is to get attention. In the majority of the stories I write, the main characters are teenagers or are in their early twenties, and when you’re that age, you’re trying to figure out who you are and see where you’re accepted… all of those types of things.

It’s fun to write about people who put on fake faces. They act like they like you, then they’ll turn around and talk about you behind your back. This happens a lot in high school, and unfortunately, once you’re out of high school, if you have the misfortune of knowing people who never grew out of their high school mentality. Some people are better at putting on a face than others. Some people have many different faces for different occasions, like they’re fashionable outfits or masks. There are some people whose fake personality is more well-developed than their actual one… so much so that their fake face becomes the reality. These types of people make great villains in fiction – they’re inherently flawed, yet they cause so much havoc among others because of their falsity.

And then there are the attention-seekers. The way they act, dress, and talk just screams out, “Look at me! Look at me!” The worst thing you can do for an attention-seeker is to give them the attention they seek. In fiction, I think an attention-seeker would make a pretty annoying villain, but they make nice secondary characters, especially if they end up changing by the end of the story. But it also depends on the way they seek attention. Eliza, a character in the story I’m planning, is an attention-seeker, and the reason she looks for attention is because nobody has ever noticed her before, and now she wants someone to. Some people seek attention for other reasons: they’re trying to impress a certain group, they want to look cool, they want to be entertaining… so many reasons.

I guess that’s part of the reason I like writing about high school so much. Drama is commonplace in a high school setting, and I would argue that it’s more acceptable to have drama when you’re in your teens than it is to have drama when you’re middle-aged and married with responsibilities… because that’s when you get shows like The Real Housewives of New Jersey. At least when you’re in your teens, you have the chance to grow out of drama and leave those fake faces and attention-seeking desperation behind.

2 thoughts on “Fake Faces and Attention-Seekers

  1. One of the traits that communication scholars study is called “self-monitoring.” It refers to the extent to which an individual is motivated to and skilled at adapting to different social situations. High self-monitors are social chameleons; low self-monitors are brutally honest and sometimes oblivious.

    The point of this is that writers can think about their characters not just by doing character interviews or sketches or whatever, but that sometimes it may be helpful to think about communication behaviors such as attention seeking and self-monitoring.

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