Episode 21: Building Characters with Morgan Sweeney
In this episode, we talk about active empathy and character driven stories and we imagine our dream artsy grandma.
HOSTED by Moiya McTier (@GoAstroMo), astrophysicist and folklorist
Morgan Sweeney is a science communicator and host of the Magic of the Mind podcast that blends fantasy storytelling and cognitive science. You can follow Morgan on twitter at @morgansweeneyyy and you can learn more about her work on her website.
Hello, and welcome to Exolore, the show that helps you imagine other worlds but with facts and science. I'm your host Moiya McTier. And I'm bad at making decisions. I'm an astrophysicist who studies planets outside of our solar system. Those are called exoplanets. And I'm also a folklorist who specializes in creating imaginary worlds. And this podcast is my way of sharing those worlds with you. It's time for another world builder interview episode, where I invite another world builder to share their process with me. I also use these episodes to expand your idea of what worldbuilding can be, because it's not just useful for sci-fi and fantasy stories. My guest today is the host of "Magic of the Mind", a fiction podcast that teaches you about cognitive science through fantasy storytelling. And finding another person who's so passionate about combining fiction and psychology has been one of the highlights of my quarantine. Morgan Sweeney, it's great to have you on the show. Want to tell us a bit about yourself?
Oh my god, I'm so excited to be here. It has also been one of the highlights of my quarantine - - high key [it's been] one of the highlights of 2020 -- meeting you and realizing there are other people in this little weird niche of the world who like care about science and communication, but want to do it through like fun storytelling. My background is in cognitive science, which is kind of a combination of psychology, neuroscience, philosophy with like a little bit of computer science and linguistics thrown in there for good measure. Basically, like you I had a lot of trouble deciding on one thing to study, I had a lot of questions and all the things that I was interested in, but always kind of at the heart of the questions I would ask them, the things I would think about was people and how we work and why we think the things we think and care about the things we do and how we interact with one another and how we live and exist in this world. And the ways that we think about that and approach just everyday life. So for my podcast, similar to you, I kind of got into science communication, and was writing articles for a while just kind of explaining science topics to people. But then I really got interested in the idea of using character plot driven stories to kind of communicate topics that sometimes felt a lot more abstract, less tangible, less real to people. You know, for me, growing up, I only read fantasy until I was like 12 years old, mostly fantasy, but just across the fiction spectrum. Because I always loved character and plot driven books. I don't know, I thought it was so fun to like, make friends in this world, and to spend time with the people you would read about. I loved action, I loved conflict -- I love just interesting things that happened [but] it wasn't until I got to high school and started reading like high literature that I kind of realized, "oh, not all stories are shaped around the people. And like the plot that you know propels it. Sometimes it's more symbolic than that". Yeah, I just loved the idea that you could take stories and human experiences and things about people and about things that happen and use it as a way to transmit knowledge to other people. I think there's so much power and understanding the world around you. And I think it's something that many of us, you know, when you're in school, you totally take it for granted, you totally forget how lucky you are to be exposed to new ideas and discovering new things about the world constantly. And I basically wanted to create something that was a fun way to do that -- to learn about yourself, learn about your mind, learn about the way you interact with the world. But do it through a character and plot driven methodology kind of. Do it in a way that didn't feel like you were learning. And so that was kind of the basis behind why I created my podcast and why I try to write different topics and psychology about the mind into fantasy stories.
That's incredible. Yeah, I have always said that my favorite way of teaching people is to do it sneakily, so that they don't necessarily realize that they're learning and your podcast does that really well. So thanks for making. I always ask my guests what fictional worlds they're inhabiting these days. And that can be books or movies or TV shows, or it can be as expensive as you want. But what fictional worlds are you inhabiting Morgan?
Absolutely. So I just finished "The Magicians" book series.
Oh the books I think you said on Twitter that you were like consuming "The Magicians", and I guess I assumed you meant the TV show.
Yeah. So that's actually how I like stumbled across it a couple years ago. My family and I were looking for something we could all watch together. My dad really likes supernatural, like sci-fi stuff. My mom really likes more wholesome, character driven plots. So "The Magicians" kind of seemed like a nice, happy medium.
That is an interesting choice for a family show -- just putting that out there.
We didn't really know what it was going into it because I think a lot of the marketing for it has been like, "Harry Potter, but for young adults". So we watched a couple episodes together when I was home for Christmas, and eventually, you know, I went back to school, and so it kind of fizzled out a little bit. But I have a friend, we talk about fantasy books together, and she's like, the person that I text whenever, like, I find a new series or she'll text me and she's like, "you have to read this". And she said, I would really like "The Magicians". I know it's so wholesome. We should make a book group [and] you should join and we all like read fantasy and talk about.
I love that. Yes, please.
It's so wholesome. It's so fun. Because then yeah, when something happens, I just text her in all caps. And I'm like, "I cannot believe I hate this person" ... but yeah, so "The Magicians", she said [that] I would really enjoy it. It was kind of like "Harry Potter" but for young adults. But like a lot angstier. I think "Harry Potter" was a really kind of wholesome coming of age story. And I think "The Magicians" is also a coming of age story, but in the real world, like they have depression and darkness and existential angst that I think a lot of people our age, and especially [during] this pandemic time when, like, so much of what we do feel so futile. I think the author did a really, really good job of kind of capturing that, obviously, it was a magical world. And you know, there were extremely magical things that happened all the time. But I felt like at the core of the series was always this like "search for happiness" especially in the first book, [where] there was a theme of thinking, once you got what you wanted, you'd be happy, and then getting it and then it never really being enough.
Who can relate to that?
Exactly. I think it's all of us. I think it's so many of us. I think it's just the world we live in, you know, it's a world that's made to make us feel like we should always do more, and we can always do more. And we'd be better if we did more, but you don't become happy that way. You just do a lot of things, and you're really tired at the end of the day. He addresses that so well. His main character discovers magic, but like, it's not enough. Over the course of the trilogy, he does kind of find peace and grow a lot as a character, and I think that was really cool to read. On the TV show kind of side, I've been rewatching "Gilmore Girls". I first watched when I was going to college four years ago, because it was set in like some ton in the northeast, and I was moving to Montreal, and I was like, "ah seasons", and that was literally why I started watching it again because it was fall. And I was like, "I want to have more fall content". The town "Gilmore Girls" is set in, they do such a great job kind of dressing up for the seasons. And it's very cute. And it feels very, like nostalgic, early 2000s. But I think what I love about "Gilmore Girls", and this is true of almost every TV show I watch is that it again, it's very character driven. The characters are so funny and likeable and consistent and silly and like small characters in the town as well as the main characters are just interesting and fun people that you'd want to hang out with and are just doing silly things all the time. And it's just entertaining. It's like if I just need 30 minutes to not think about work, that's definitely what I watch.
I also often return to "Gilmore Girls" as a comforting presence because I watched it as a kid. Yeah, you're spot on, Stars Hollow is quintessential New England town. They look great for all the holidays.
You want to hear a wild fact that I learned about Gilmore Girls?
I mean, maybe you knew this, but I learned this like a month ago. It's not actually filmed in the northeast. It's filmed in LA. It's all fake snow, fake leaves, fake decorations. Yeah, sorry. I might have like ruined it for you now.
Oh, you did.
I'm so sorry.
Yeah, you actually just ruined "Gilmore Girls" for me, it's okay. I will never be the same again. and it's all your fault.
I mean but great set design, right? Like such good set design. You wanna talk about worldbuilding? LA, but it looks like December in Connecticut.
Great. Those are fantastic fictional worlds to be inhabiting these days. And I like that you really are sticking with this theme of liking character driven stories. And I think that's fair. It's on brand. Yeah. So let's pivot a little bit to talk about your show that you created from scratch, which is amazing. It's fiction, and it's science and you're doing a lot but in a good way - you're doing a lot in the best way possible. So you have already wrapped up the first season. Do you mind kind of summarizing what happened in the first season for us?
Yeah, totally. Okay, so season one opens on the protagonist whose name is Eve. So she is a 16 year old half elf who lives in the world of "Dungeons and Dragons", she kind of starts out searching for home. That was kind of how I originally wrote the show. Eve was a 16 year old Scribe who was orphaned when she was 12 years old, and her mom was kind of her only source of family. And so she kind of travels the world meeting people doing things, but really just searching for somewhere she can feel safe and cared for and happy. And so along the course of season one, she needs different people. She does different things. She learns new skills and things about herself and explores different places. But I think the theme of home is very much entwined in the people that she meets more than the places that she goes. And throughout [the seson] there is kind of this question of like, what happened to her mother? And what can she do about it? And what does it mean for her life and her future. And I think by the end, you do get some closure about who killed her mother and what happened, but season one kind of ends with Eve and a couple of her friends like walking off into the sunset or sunrise, but just kind of looking towards their futures and trying to figure out who they are right now. And trying to let the things that have happened to them in the past not really define the people that they want to be in the future. So I think if there's one theme from season one, it's at home is in the people that you love and care about. But obviously there's magic and murder mysteries and chase scenes and like monster fights, because it is like a D&D Fantasy podcast. I care a lot about emotional and family friend[ly] sort of themes, because those are things that been really present in my life and meaningful for me,
It sounds incredible. I have listened to most of the first season and absolutely loved it can't wait for season two. So you did all of this yourself from scratch, which is incredible. As someone who has written fiction in the past, I know how hard it is to come up with a story from scratch. And the way I think of it is that I separate worldbuilding from storytelling from character development from the actual like writing or the production of it, right, I separate it out into those. So let's focus on just like story creation. Like, what was your inspiration? How did you actually plot it out? Pun intended? Is that a pun or is that literally just the definition of plot?
I'm gonna count it as a pun because it made me laugh, [but] it's a really good question. This is actually the question that I love being asked the most, because it is something that you don't really think about when you're consuming media [and] when you're appreciating it, it just seems like it's been made that way, [and] it will always be that way [and] it's perfect just from the beginning. But as you know, so much of the work is just planning and figuring out what it's supposed to look like. I do have to say, it's true that all the production [while] I have been responsible for it, I've had so much support and help throughout the entire process. I definitely would not have made this podcast if it weren't for like, friends family -- an internship I had at a place called Building 21, which is a really cool think tank/creative space at McGill University. So yeah, even though the creative process was mine, anyone who's trying to do anything like this, like, don't think people just do it on their own. That is so not true. I had so many people who believed in me and cared about what I was doing. Otherwise, I never would have gotten past like step one of like, "Oh, I want to make a podcast", but as far as the process itself goes -- all my tastes and TV shows are like sitcoms with really great characters. And that was kind of where I wanted to start for this story. And it was also kind of coincidental because I knew I wanted to make a podcast that communicated topics in psychology through fantasy stories. But I also played D&D with like my friends, and that was a really cool vessel for me. I was also listening to a number of D&D podcasts, because there's so many great ones out there. And so that was a really cool vessel for me, because I already had a character I was playing in our campaign, I had already given her a backstory, and I had friends that I was playing this game with. So I had like other characters that could build on and a world that had kind of already been created. Obviously, there's so much complexity in the world "Dungeons and Dragons", and you can add in so many like homebrew[ed] things like things that you create on your own. The world of "Dungeons and Dragons" has been created by "Wizards of the Coast". But you do not have to stick to that even a little bit. We've made some like "Percy Jackson" campaigns. You can do whatever you want in that world and just create it. D&D is just a mechanism and like a gameplay sort of structure that makes it easier -- you don't have to do all the work from scratch. [Instead] I really wanted to focus on the characters and on the things that would make sense for people, I think for writing good fantasy. Obviously, it's fiction. None of its real as far as we know. And so to make it believable, and keep people's attention [on] fantasy, I sincerely believe whatever rules of magic or of characters or of possible things in the fantasy world you're working in whatever ones you make, and they can be like, super out there and completely unbelievable [but] people will suspend their disbelief as long as you stay consistent with the rules that you've made. And so that's why I think, again, character building and staying true to character is so important, because if you build a character, and they do something that they would never do, it completely shakes people's faith in the world you've created, and that's never something I want to do. I want to create something that people are immersed in and [for it to] feel real and tangible. And it's kind of a way to escape or see the world from a different lens. And without the ability to kind of stay consistent to character and consistent to the world that you've created ... it's a lot harder to do that. And so, as far as the writing process itself, I did start with characters. I started with my character. I started with a couple friends of mine who'd said they'd be happy to act in it with me, because many of them were actors, and like D&D nerds. So I just thought it'd be a fun way to start and put a lot less pressure on me. Obviously, we wrote it together and stuff, but it was a lot less intense. And then in terms of plot, well, I think it'd be better to instead of like, explain it, we could kind of show you.
Okay, yeah, to make a character. Let's do that. And this is great timing, because I've recently been thinking about a process that I'm calling "micro worldbuilding". To me, micro worldbuilding means worldbuilding on a smaller scale. So I have been creating fiction for a long time, I think I tried to write my first book when I was like nine years old, it didn't go anywhere, and it was horrible. I'm glad that it didn't go anywhere. But I always had a really hard time coming up with characters. And I think that that's also tied with the fact that I have kind of always had a hard time empathizing with other people. And so recently, I realized that creating a person is like a micro version of creating a world, you know, you still have to build out the history and the value system based on environment and biology, which is the same process, the same sequence of steps that I use to do big worldbuilding or macro worldbuilding. So I would love to create a character with you [almost] like building a person's world, if you will.
Absolutely. Yeah, people are worlds of their own 100%.
Yeah, I guess this is your show now. Walk us through what you would do if you were making a character for your show?
Absolutely. Yeah. So I think a lot of character building for me, I will say is very instinctive. If I'm playing the characters, I try to rate them as kind of versions of myself because I find it easiest to be true to character, when you have an instinct that kind of follows your instinct. And so it could be you know, a part of yourself that maybe you don't get to be very often sizably sullen teenagers for what I'm like feeling really angsty and like, upset at the world. Sometimes I play like really happy go lucky, young people, which is kind of what Eve is. She's pretty happy go lucky. Obviously, she's, you know, had hard times in her life, but she's very able to, like pick herself [up]. So you know, finding pieces of myself that I'd like to explore maybe things I've struggled with, or pieces of myself that I'm interested in. Yeah, so just figuring out what those are. So Moiya what are some of those for you? What are pieces of yourself and/or character things you'd like to explore?
Ooh. I mean, we're doing this as micro worldbuilding. And I have also recently been using micro worldbuilding to practice active empathy to try and get in the mindset of another human being. [So] empathy is something that I would love to explore more as a character trait. Anything else? Like? Do you have a series of questions or something that you try to fill out? When you're building a new character?
Can we go through those?
Oh, 100%. Yeah. So basically, when I first started playing D&D, one of the really nice things about using the D&D mechanism is that they have a character sheet that you fill out. So you choose a race in the world of "Dungeons and Dragons", and it doesn't have to be a D&D character. It can be any character you ever want to play. But I find for me, having too many possibilities makes it harder for me to make a decision. So limiting myself, makes it a lot easier for me personally, say you pick a race. So you could be an elf or an orc. Or you could be a gnome. If you wanted to be a gnome, you could be whatever you want to be. You could be a demigod, you could be a god, this could be your like power fantasy, and that would be totally cool. And then you choose a class what your skill set is. So in d&d, some of the classes are like being a Ranger, which is someone who's like very good at tracking -- good at shooting arrows. Typically, they live in nature quite a bit, whether that's forests or mountains or oceans, you could be a Bard. So even technically, her class is a Bard even though she's a Scribe. She's not really a singer, but she's a writer. I mean, you could be a fighter if you're like a mercenary, but the whole idea of creating a race and a class is that it helps give you some grounding, the race kind of tells you where your character comes from. So if you're an elf, obviously, as an elf, you could have grown up anywhere in the world. But if you'd like you can put that elf in a village with like other elves or like in the mountains with the high elves or like a priest, elf, you know, whatever you want. And then as far as like class goes, just knowing how they spend their time, what their strengths are, what things they do professionally can be really helpful towards building that character. And it just gives you something nice to like, start off with. So tell me about your character. What kind of race and class do you think would fit?
I absolutely love the way D&D character creation is set up. I think you nailed it, that constraining it is really helpful. So I always pick elf. I have fantasized being an elf or like a fae creature for basically my entire life. And this is one of the only ways that I get to experience that so I'm gonna choose elf. Which is on brand for me, but for class, I want to do something that would tie in well with this empathy feature. So is there like a priest type of thing, but that isn't religious just like a caretaker are there like guidance counselors in D&D?
I think yeah, quite a few classes you could use as a guidance counselor. I think for me Druid is a class that if you're more of a spiritual person, but not tied to a god more tied to the energy of nature and the cycles of seasons and earth. I think a Druid might be a good thing for that. There's quite a few more religious [classes]. You could be a Cleric or a Monk, but I think if you want to be secular and nondenominational Druid might be the way to go.
All right, let's go with Druid ... another dream of mine. I have way too many books on my bookshelf about Druids that I haven't had time to read yet, so maybe this will be the catalyst I need[ed] to actually read those books.
Absolutely. I mean, the best part of creating a character is you can do the things you've always dreamed about doing that maybe you couldn't do in the real world.
Alright, so I am an elf Druid.
Druids, for example if you['ve] played D&D, you'll do this every time you kind of figure out what some of their specialties are, we're not going to go through the player's handbook and do all of them. But for a Druid, for example, it's really important to know what kind of natural environment your character is most comfortable in. So actually, what's the gender of your character?
I mean, the easiest answer is to say that my character is feminine. And I don't have a good reason to go against that. So I'll say feminine.
Cool. Okay, cool. I didn't want to use the wrong pronoun. Okay. So you know, maybe she grew up in a forest or by the ocean, and depending on where she grew up, she's gonna have a special connection to certain kinds of nature and maybe certain kinds of animals or plants. So if you are a Druid, where would you have wanted to grow up?
I mean, if I were a Druid, I would have -- and I did [as in] me Moya, I did grow up in the woods. But I would like to take this as an opportunity to explore another part of nature and one part of nature that I have not been around much at all is the ocean. I have very little experience with the ocean. I don't even know how to swim. So let's give this character the ability to swim because she grew up around the ocean.
Absolutely. Yeah. And that is obviously like one of the most fun things about creating characters is like be something new. Try something new. Awesome. Okay, so the ocean [and] first, I think we should come up with a name for your character. I think that helps make it even more concrete.
Good point. Ocean things. I'm like, picturing the ocean trying to mentally hear the waves and Gloria, that is that's such a boring name. I'm so sorry. If there any Gloria's listening to this episode, I don't think that your name is boring on Earth. I just have never encountered any Glorias in D&D.
That is a wonderful name.
Okay, so Gloria, how old are you?
Oh, let's make her really old. I want her to be old and wise. Let's say elves can live for a really long time. Right? So let's make her like 300.
400 years old.
Is that too old for an elf?
There are no rules.
You can be 1,000 years old if you want. There could be like a magical potion -- maybe you have the Sorcerer's Stone, there are no rules.
Okay, then Gloria is 407 years old.
Ah, 407 years old and thriving. What does she look like?
She loves to go to the beach and collect sand dollars, and then use them to craft jewelry for herself. Because she doesn't like the idea of taking something from nature that it doesn't already offer up on its own. So she makes things out of like fallen trees when she encounters them just like nature's refuse. So she is wearing a lot of like homemade jewelry with like shells in her ears and shells holding her hair back from her face. And her hair is like long and gray and silver. And she spends all of her time like in and around the ocean. So it's got those beautiful natural beachy waves. She wears a lot of like dresses -- kind of shapeless, which sounds like an insult but it's not.
They're like flowy.
Yeah, like flowy long dresses with like cardigans over it [well] the D&D equivalent of a cardigan she really loves to be cozy. She wears sandals, [and] the bottom of her dress is always wet and crusted with sand. But she doesn't care because that's just like who she is.
Yes! She sounds amazing. What kind of sandals are they like Birkenstock sandals [or] flip flops -- sandals, like t buzz ?
Like Birkenstock sandals because she needs stability, but she wants her skin to be exposed to the elements?
Absolutely. She sounds amazing. I want Gloria in my life. And it's wonderful because as soon as you kind of create an image of the character they become that much more real.
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So my sister does a lot of fanfiction, and she's an incredible writer, and especially character writer. And so when I was first starting my podcast, she gave me just a list of questions that I filled out for my character. We're not going to go through all of them right now. But one of the most interesting ones that I thought she proposed was, what is your characters star sign? I think that's a really interesting way to kind of figure out some of their character traits just knowing like what element they're most associated with and what kind of traits they exhibit outwardly,
Okay. I know nothing about astrology here on Earth. But this is also astrology in D&D, where there aren't necessarily the same constellations anyway.
So well, if you're talking about elements, like definitely water, the water and then earth, and then air and then fire. Gloria doesn't hate fire, but also she's not the type of person who feels most comfortable sitting next to a fireplace. Yeah, I don't know enough about astrology to answer this question.
That's okay. Honestly, I don't know much about astrology, either. like half of character building is literally me just researching elves names, or town names, or water astrology signs. And I kind of just like, look through lists until I find one that like, seems like it resonates with me. I think, you know, it is such an intuitive thing of like, if it's the right thing you say, and you're like, that feels right, [and sometimes it just takes] some time to figure that out. And that's totally cool.
You can maybe just tell me about a couple of her traits, regardless of first star sign.
Okay. Yeah. I think that Gloria is the type of person who, you know, she's been around for a long time, she identifies very strongly with the ocean, which has also been around for a long time. And it's kind of, like, constant and enduring. And I feel like she embodies that. Like she's there. You know, if there's something going wrong with people she loves, she's there for them. And if it feels like times are in flux, or in turmoil, she's like, the rock in the turbulent water that's like, you know what, we're going to get through this, and it's gonna be fine. She's really patient, I want to say, but also knows what she wants and recognizes that sometimes, like, you can't just wait for things to happen to you. Sometimes you do have to go and get them. Yeah, I think that's Gloria.
That's awesome. Do you think you'd be able to tell me a little bit about her past maybe things that happened to her or the environment she grew up in that allowed her to be so patient and so empathetic and so dependable for the people around her?
Yeah, let me just say the opposite of everything that happened in my childhood. Well, I think she had a probably a pretty typical childhood growing up in a house near the seaside. Maybe her parents pushed her out, I would really like it if she wasn't always empathetic and dependable. I would love it if it was something she had to learn over the course of her life. So maybe her parents urged her to go out and meet other people and see other ways of life because she was pretty set in her ways and sheltered for let's say the first 7500 years of her life. And then her parents were like, "I think meeting other people would do us some good Gloria". So she went out into the world and she talked to people who had totally different experiences from her. She maybe was like a traveling artisan.
She's a traveling artisan and going around the world and selling her wares. Fun fact about me, I spent most of my childhood summers going around and selling wares at different festivals because I basically grew up in like the "Little House on the Prairie".
Wait, what kind of wares did you sell? I'm just really curious.
I lived on an apiary. My dad was a beekeeper, so we sold our own honey and we sold our own jam that we made with berries from our land and we sold our own maple syrup from our trees and my mom sold like woodburned gourds and plant hangers made out of macrame. I sold macarame earrings, bracelets and necklaces that I made and I would take custom orders so people could come up to me at our tent and they could pick out the beads they wanted and they could say how long they wanted the earrings to be. It took too long to make a bracelet so I would customize earrings and that's how I made money as a child.
Wow, that's incredible. I mean, yeah, that definitely gives you some good character reference for Gloria.
Yeah. So she's going around selling her jewelry. And oh, yeah, this is good. Okay, so she's also making a quilt like as she goes along, she's making a story quilt. Like she's not writing anything on the quilt, and it's not like she's somehow presenting the story of the different people she meets with the way the quilt looks. But like, while she makes each square of the quilt, she does that while she's talking to other people. And she just imbues the quilt with these other people's essences. And then when she does return to her little seaside cottage, by the time she gets back, her parents are dead. So she has to deal with that, but when she does get back, she uses this quilt, and she like sits in a rocking chair covered in this quilt, and she just remembers all the different people she met on her journeys.
That's beautiful. That's such a incredible way to create something out of all the relationships and all the moments you've shared with people over the years. I think that's an amazing tool to build empathy is by listening to people. And by imbuing their essences, you understand who they are at a really deep level when you like, create something for them or of them or with them. I think that really, I mean, conversations connect to you, but creating something physical. That's really cool.
Yeah, Gloria is wise in that way.
That's fantastic. So the next thing I think that helps for like present day who Gloria is now who are the most important people in her life, and kind of what is the role that she plays in the society she lives in? And also, what does the society look like? Is it a village? Is it a city? What what kind of environment is she in?
Great questions. I think that Gloria, you know, she doesn't have like a close, immediate family of her own. Her parents are dead. I feel like Gloria never married, that just wasn't important to her. And so she has a lot of close friendships in the nearby village. So she lives pretty close to the ocean. But there is a village nearby fun, facts based worldbuilding fact, a lot of settlements are going to be close to water, because water is something we need to survive. And so if there is a settlement that's close to the ocean, then it's probably going to be more of an economy based around fishing. So I like to think that Gloria knows all of the fishmongers by first name, and when she walks through the town square, all of the people in their carts are like calling out and trying to sell their stuff. And she walks through and she can just deal it right back to them. Like if the radish seller or something is like, "oh, come by my wares, two for one deal". And Gloria says, "oh, Robbie, you had better radishes last week". I'm not Gloria so I'm not as good at dealing it back. But she is and she can identify immediately what the best fish in the basket is. Is that how they present fish?
I think it is. Anything you say is fact. This is fantasy baby.
Great. Yeah. So she can always identify like, whatever she's looking at, whether it's produce or fish or whatever, she can identify the best one. And she got so close to the fishmongers by hosting monthly big dinner parties, with a rotating group of people from the nearby village who can just come to her hut and she'll cook them a nice meal. And they'll like trade stories all night. That's her.
I just want Gloria to be my grandmother. She just sounds like the most wonderful person to have in your life.
I know after this call, I'm going to be so upset that I don't actually know and Gloria. It's gonna be like a big empty spot in my life.
That is sad. But the fun thing about creating characters is if you decide to play the character in a context, they are a part of you. You know.
You don't have to say goodbye.
They are you. You are them.
Okay, sweet. So the grandmother that I've always dreamed of, but haven't yet had, I mean, I'd love my grandmother. She's wonderful, but she's not a she's not a sea elf, unfortunately. Okay, so do you feel like you understand Gloria and the way that she presents herself outwardly? Do you think like you have a solid enough picture of who she is kind of to the rest of the world?
Yeah, I think so I can picture her walking through the town square, and I can imagine how she commands the space.
Awesome. That is definitely the first part in building a character. And the second part, which is equally challenging, is figuring out who they are internally and how they interact with themselves. So obviously, we know how the world sees her, but how does Gloria see herself?
Interesting. I think Gloria understands that as an elf, as a person, she is constantly growing and evolving based on her experiences and her interactions with the world around her. And so I think that she would recognize that there are a few core values to her identity like patience, and calm and understanding. But I think she also understands that those things are born out of her old tendency to judge people really quickly and assume that she was the smartest or most knowledgeable or most interesting person in a room because she just didn't have the experience of going out and meeting other interesting, smart people. Am I describing myself, maybe. So she recognizes that she has changed. And so she's comfortable with who she is now. But she will also be comfortable absorbing new information and making changes based on that.
That's a really important balance to strike, and at the ripe old age of 407, it's a good thing she's found it. One of my other favorite questions that my sister asked me that I never really thought about before. And this one really kind of forces you to empathize with Gloria, but also with yourself as the character creator is, what is one thing that you know about Gloria, that Gloria does not know?
Well, now I'm trying to figure out is there anything about me that I don't know that other people do?
I mean, for most people there is.
Yeah, I'm sure there is. But by definition, I wouldn't know. So my brain is just going in like soap opera direction.Right now my brain is saying, "I know that Gloria has a brother out there that her parents never told her about".
That's fantastic. That's awesome. That's the thing, the deeper you kind of go into someone and the more elements you add to a person into a character, the more interesting things you realize, like you could build a story out of, you know?
Yeah, that's a really interesting question.
At this point, it kind of depends on what you're trying to do with the character. Because if you want to write a story that features Gloria, the center of any story, as you probably know, is a conflict. So you have to find some point of contention between Gloria and something else, whether it's an internal conflict between "Gloria and herself", it can be different parts of herself, or an external conflict, "Gloria versus the world", "Gloria versus another person", "Gloria versus society" -- whatever it is, so yeah, I guess what would some conflicts for presentday Gloria be?
I think that there are probably people in Gloria's life who see that she's really understanding and that she likes to do whatever she can to help people around her, and they would try to take advantage of her. And maybe they would do it in a nefarious enough way where like she individually recognizes what's happening. But she's worried that if she confronts this person who's trying to take advantage of her that it would somehow sully her reputation as like the nice old ocean lady. And I think she would have to reckon with, "well, how much do I care about my reputation versus being true to myself and who I am"?
Abolutely, I mean, I think most conflicts are never quite as simple as you seem to break them down in English class, because human life is messy, right? Any external conflict usually has a corresponding internal conflict. There is this person out there who's taking advantage of Gloria and making her life more challenging, but I think the more fundamental conflict that Gloria is working through is one of you know, what should I do about it? How does this reflect upon myself?
Do you want to flesh it out even more? Do you want to figure out who these people are and what Gloria is gonna do about it?
I think that's getting into story a little bit. So maybe now is the time to explain what are we going to do with this character, Morgan?
Awesome. So without giving away too much of the story itself with a very thin announcement. Moiya is coming on season two of "Magic of the Mind" where she is going to be playing Gloria the 407 year old ocean elf who sells her wares around the world and yells at fishermen in the market. And we will be building upon this character that you have heard created before your own ears. We will be creating not just a world, but a story and characters and a whole narrative and also a lesson that you can take from this story in season two of "Magic of the Mind".
Do you have a release date for season two yet? Or is it too early to tell?
It'll be coming out in the next couple of months? Look out for it early 2021.
I'm so excited. No, seriously. I love hearing the stories that you put together. I love hearing the interviews that you do. Afterwards with cognitive scientists. And I can only imagine that I will absolutely love being a part of this story. So I'm really excited to see season two or hear season two.
Thank you. Yeah, and I'm really excited about season two because you know, season one was very much a lot of conflicts and topics that I've been thinking a lot about kind of internally and things I wanted to explore myself. But for season two, my podcast is more of a platform for other people to explore things that they're interested in. [It's for them to] dig deeper into conflicts or topics or things that they're curious about, or have struggled with. And I really want it to be more of a collaborative creative process. Like you've kind of heard right here.
Yeah, this has been a lot of fun. I have maybe a couple of other just like general character development questions, if you're down for it.
Oh, anything. I love talking.
That's why we become podcasters, right? Because we love talking.
So I'm wondering if you have any tips for building characters who are totally different from you because when you were asking all those questions about Gloria,[and] it's actually really helpful to have an example that we just did; [but] when you're asking all those questions about Gloria, I was really leaning pretty heavily on my own life experience in my own personality. So listeners, you know, a lot more about me now than you did an hour ago. [But] how would you approach building a character who is like a big, beefy, angry man? Like, how would you do that?
So I will say, going back to the best stories, or at least the best fantasy stories are the ones that are consistent and stay real. Like I think the media forms that bring me the most joy, whether books shows, movies, are the ones that feel true and kind of close to home. So I am a firm believer that making characters that have a part of you, it is kind of a really authentic expression that I find resonates with me most strongly. That being said, it would be kind of boring, if every single character in a book was just you are different versions of you. But I think a really common piece of writing advice, just across the board is like work with what you know, not like don't look at other things in the world. Obviously, research is like half of writing is just like learning more and then writing about it. But I think, you know, if you're trying to create a character that's different from you think of someone in your life who's different from you and think about, you know, ways that they different about who they are, I think the cool thing about storytelling, especially when it's a character driven story is your reflecting the world but in a different way in a different lens. So you know, if I was trying to write a story about a big burly guy, for example, I might think about my dad, who was an army colonel, obviously, he's my dad. So I know I'm pretty well, but you know, talking about empathy, having to put yourself in the shoes of another character, and especially when it's different from you, allows you to see who they are and what their struggles have been, and why they are the way they are now in a completely different way. And that's the cool thing about making characters also like you is it makes you look at yourself in a different way. And sometimes realize things about yourself that you hadn't really taken the time to recognize. And so I think writing and especially like character development, you're exploring new things, new pieces of yourself, kind of, like we were saying earlier, like people are worlds in their own. They all have their own history, they all have people that have touched their lives and things that have changed the trajectory of where they've been and where they're going. The more deeply and authentically you can engage with that, the more you can put yourself in someone else's shoes and understand how they got to where they are, and what they're doing there, and what they're trying to do. It allows you to bond [with] that with that character, which will allow that character to bond with your readers or listeners. But even more than that, it will create a connection between you and someone else. And I am a firm believer that like depth and number of connections is what really, for me makes life meaningful. I enjoy life more when I'm able to connect with others. That's why I got into sci-comm was because like, there is so much complexity, and so many interesting things that happen constantly that we're just not aware of, because we don't have the time to connect ourselves to the world around us. And I think it's one of the greatest joys of creating something and especially something that resembles the world is you're literally just taking time to connect yourself.
Yeah. And it comes through. I mean, one of the reasons it's been such a joy to get to know you over the past few months is because it really does seem like you care about connections between people and forming those and that's just really beautiful to be on the receiving end of so thank you.
I'm lucky you are such a wonderful person. And I feel very lucky and privileged that I get to know you and that you're my like internet friend, and we get to talk and hang out and like make stuff together. Like it's super cool.
We're past internet friends, we're real friends. I want to point out something that you said that it's easier to relate to something that's more similar to you than it is to relate to something that's not similar to you. And I just want to draw a parallel between that and worldbuilding like world creation, which is something we do a lot on this show because it's a lot easier to imagine a planet that is exactly like Earth except humans have tails. Or it's a lot easier to imagine worlds that are more similar to ours. And that's why on this show I do try to kind of expand our minds and our ideas about what worlds we're comfortable imagining, I really do think that learning how to worldbuild can make you better at empathizing. [It can] can make you more tolerant at understanding people who are very different from yours once you do the work of stretching those muscles.
Absolutely. 100%. And I think I can bring my actual cog-sci expertise in right now. Because you know, that's kind of how our minds work. We take previous experiences in our life, and we categorize them into, you know, "this is what a dog looks like", "this is what a chair looks like". So if you spend your entire life only seeing dining room chairs, and someone shows you like a lazy boy, you're gonna be really confused, because it doesn't look like the chair you're used to. But there's a joy and an expansion of the category of the way you process information. If your whole entire life, you've never seen the color red, and then all of a sudden it appears, you're not going to know what it is like at first. But once you realize what it is and you recognize the dimensions that it brings to your life and how much more you're able to experience as a result; it's such a source of joy, but it's not easy. There are like cognitive barriers to like drawing in new information, especially that information contradicts things that you already kind of have absorbed. So it's a practice, and it's one of [what] I think the most rewarding practices in the world is to expand your barriers and boundaries and explore things that are totally new to you. And it's something that Exolore does a fantastic job of like opening your mind and allowing you to think about things that could exist or have existed or never have and might never [exist]; but what if they did? The power of imagination, is one of the most incredible things that our brains can do is take knowledge that we've learned -- take things we've seen and done and create things that we never have -- but that we could. [And] the more you open yourself up, the more you try new things even if it's like a new food like it can start on a small scale, but it really makes life more enjoyable and allows you to become a more complex and like multi dimensional human being.
Yeah, here on Exolore, we are all for you becoming a complex and multi-dimensional human. Yes. All right, we are near the top of the hour, so when our listeners want to learn more about you, how can they do that? How can they follow what you're doing?
So I am on twitter @morgansweeneyyy, and if you'd like to tune in to "Magic of the Mind", we're also on Twitter @magicofthemind1 or on Instagram @magicofthemindpod. I am getting better at being on the internet. But if you want to just reach out [or] hang out, my DMs are always open. I love hearing from new people. It's one of the greatest joys in life [being able] to connect with others. And I also have "morgansweeney.work" is like my online portfolio place. So if you want to read other stuff I've read or other things I'm working on, you can always reach out to me through there. I'd love to hear from you.
Cool. One last question. In each episode, I leave a prompt for listeners in case they want to start a creative project, but they need a little inspiration. So what would you like the prompt for this episode to be? I feel like it should definitely be something about character creation.
Choose a person in your life and ask yourself where they came from? How they got to where they are now? Who they are [and] how [do] other people see them. How [do] they see themselves? Do a character building exercise with someone in your life and get to know them and empathize with them a little more.
I like that as a prompt, because it's creative and that you have to you know, like imagine this other person, but it's also something that can help strengthen this connection that you have, I think it would be even better if it was someone that you don't know very well, so that there's more opportunity for just pure imaginative creation. So yeah, pick someone like an acquaintance maybe, [or] maybe pick that person back before COVID when we were all in offices, and there was that person who would heat up fish in the microwave, and you're [were] like, "oh, Dave, why"? Build out Dave's life. Like why does Dave keep putting fish in the microwave in the office? Or you know, whatever your equivalent of that is? I think that's a great prompt. Thanks, Morgan.
Yeah, no, thank you. This was wonderful.
Thanks for coming on. I can't wait to hear season two I can't wait to participate in season two and listeners, I will absolutely let you know when season two comes out. But you should also just subscribe to "Magic of the Mind" so that you get your own notifications. Any last words, any last thoughts, Morgan?
Don't underestimate the power that people have -- that you have. You can see yourself as a character and get to know us a little bit better and get to understand yourself and try to minimize that as you get caught up in everything that happens constantly throughout the day. You are the star of your own story and conflicts are just the interesting parts.
Yeah, that's a great note to end. Thank you, and that's a wrap. [A] huge thank you to Morgan Sweeney for helping me get in touch with my inner grandma. Thanks to Mischa Stanton for doing the amazing editing work on this episode. [Thanks] to Stephen Reisig, for designing the awesome cover art and to Purple Planet for giving me the intro and outro music. They didn't actually just give it to me, it's a website where you can get it for free. But most importantly, thank you for listening. If you want to support my worldbuilding work, the first way to do that is to rate and review the show on Apple podcasts. I've actually started reading some of the reviews you leave and they're so nice, thank you so much. I'm honored and flattered and I really just love reading what you have to say about the show. Also it's free and you can do it even if you don't have any Apple products and it does make a difference. So please go do that. Second, you can support me on Patreon. Your monthly support would make it possible for me to continue working on this passion project of mine so please head on over to patreon.com/goastromo if you're able. And if you liked this episode, be sure to share it with your friends and subscribe to the show. That way you can catch me next time on another world!