Literarily speaking [so, sorry, I’m not talking about starving children in Africa when I say ‘Third World’], there are three Worlds that exist for every single book, movie, and video game storyline ever invented. Basically, if there’s a story, then these three Worlds exist. Their names are pretty simple: First World, Second World, and Third World. So, First things first.
What is the First World? Well, Reader, you are in it. The First World is the physical world, what some people refer (erroneously) to as ‘reality.’ Lift your hand, shake your head, touch your computer screen, and you’re moving in the First World, the ‘flesh and bones’ reality where people live. Simple enough?
Now, before I can explain the Second World, I need to establish the Third World, since the Second World is almost like a bridge between the two. Third World is the ‘story world,’ the place where the story exists. There are countless examples of this World. Middle Earth, Panem (Hunger Games, for those of you who haven’t yet read that series), Narnia, and Westeros are a few of the ‘fictional’ Third Worlds out there. But a Third World doesn’t have to be completely made up. Percy Jackson’s mythological US is the States mixed with a good helping of Greco-Roman mythology. Now, most people deny the validity of those ancient religious systems (if you believe in them I’d love to talk with you), but I have yet to find a person that would deny that the land segment known as the United States of America has never existed. So the location and setting of the Third World have nothing to do with it being a Third World. Third Worlds are simply where the story takes place. Texas could be the setting of a Third World. The Pacific Ocean could be a Third World. Pretty much whatever the author wants the Third World to be is what a Third World can be. The location is irrelevant to whether the World is a Third World or not. The Third World is simply the stage on which the characters act out whatever their life’s events were, the ‘final product,’ so to speak.
Those were the easy two. This one’s the most difficult to explain, especially if you’ve never written a story before. All writers have a Second World, but not all of them think of it this way. In practice, the Second World is the World in which all of the work gets done, where the revising and editing occur; the Second World houses all the story’s “inner workings.” Imagine a movie set, with all the actors up on stage, holding their scripts, and behind-the-scenes crew members running around, adjusting props and handing and taking stuff from the actors. The director stands up, yells ‘Action!’, and the actors start the scene. For writers, they are like the directors in a movie scene. They’re watching all their “actors,” their characters, live out their lives up on stage, to be recorded by the author’s “word camera.” If the author doesn’t like something he or she sees, then the scene gets stopped and the characters run over it again a different way until the author is satisfied. However, unlike in actual filming, a writer can jump to a scene that was ‘filmed’ three months ago, and pick up exactly where they left off. A similar analogy, the way a friend of mine thinks of her Second World, is like a dramatic theater, with her characters up on stage, reciting their scripts and tossing those scripts to the ground when they don’t like their lines, with the occasional storming off and the cry, “I do NOT sound like that!”
For myself, I see my Second World two different ways, depending on how the story’s turning out. Think of the last time you went to a movie theater, or watched something online (such as a Youtube video). Then imagine you had full control over the movie, not only with the play/fast-forward/pause features, but also what’s happening in the movie. You don’t want that character to break up? Just reach into the screen and change it. That line sounded retarded? A simple tweak of the gears, and voila! No more oh-so-fake-it-hurts-your-ears coming out of that guy (or girl)’s mouth.
The other perspective for my Second World is what I call the ‘space station’ view. Imagine yourself in the ISS right now, looking out of one of the portholes down at the Earth. The view is amazing, you can see clouds forming right beneath you, and underneath that is the dazzling flash of sunlight reflected off of the ocean. To the left and right of the water are giant patches of land, swabbed in green or tan, partially obscured by the clouds floating through the atmosphere. Then imagine that, from so high up, you can see the finest details of the bustling streets of your favorite city. I mean everything: someone walking with their shoelaces untied, the serial numbers on the bills the clerk gave as change, the brand of purse that lady’s carrying. Oh, and you can hear everything too. The growl of traffic as yet another wave gets stopped at that stupid intersection once again. A child crying from getting turned around at the mall and losing sight of its mother. An employee having a heated conversation with his boss. Now go one step beyond that. If you choose to, you can hear what people are thinking. The hot dog vendor’s critical thinking about the businessman that just brushed past him without even a word, the teenage girl day-dreaming about her “whoa,” and the person behind the drive-thru speaker thinking that yet another person should make up their mind before they come into the lane. And from up so high, you could with a thought or a touch change anything you wanted to. Anything. You could bring in a flash thunderstorm and drench all the unprepared people (hey, it’s your story. You could make all the umbrellas malfunction just for kicks). A building could collapse or the stoplight could get stuck on red, both directions, just because you feel like it. Or someone’s day just got made by the surprise visit from their spouse. It’s your pick, because it’s your Second World. Once you’re done writing everything down in its finalized form and send it out into the world, people who read it are entering your Third World, the story world. But only you, the writer, will ever know what truly went on in that World, all the fun insides jokes and bloopers from development, because only you can access your Second World. No one else can. Oh, you can tell them about what happens in it, but then that becomes the Third World to the listener.
Please comment if anything needs to be clarified, and I will gladly make corrections.
Now, on to the characters. I know people have told some of you, at one point in your life, that you’re “a character,” so congratulations you’re a First World character. But there are two literary types of characters as well, and (very originally) they’re called Second and Third World characters.
Everyone knows what a Third World character is, even if they’ve never heard it called this before. Remember Frodo from the Lord of the Rings? Third World character. Sherlock Holmes, also a Third World character. The characters that you read about or watch are Third World characters…at least, when you read about them. But when you’re the author, characters take on a whole new dynamic relationship. First, there’s the characters that ‘behave’ and stay in the story, the Third World characters, and then there’s the…active characters, the Second World characters.
Third World characters for writers are some of the nicest, quietest characters. Oh, I don’t mean in the story: in my writing, every protagonist (so far) has been a Third World character. They are given their part, and often with little complaint they perform it. Rarely do they raise their voices in protest; more often than not it’s the author that finds fault with their script or performance, and the author that fixes whatever the problem is. Third World characters mind their manners, do what they’re told, and generally leave the author alone. It’s a rare occurrence for a Third World character to recommend a change, and when they do it’s usually a one-time-only interaction with the author. The rest of the time the Third World character is just along for the ride.
And then there are the Second Worlders. Inexperienced writers, and even some of the mature authors, don’t have Second World characters (and at times that is an enviable state), and that’s either because they haven’t grown enough to have developed (or encountered) their Second World characters, or simply because they haven’t recognized them. So I apologize in advance for any lost sleep and distractions or arguments that occur with your characters because they’ve woken up and realized just how powerful and important they really are. If you’ve never had a good, long argument (or just plain brawl) with a character, then be warned that with Second Worlders, that’s coming, and when it goes down you’ll never forget it. If you have, then you’re probably already thinking of some of your Second World characters.
Briefly, Second Worlders make a habit of interacting with the author. They will talk with you like they are normal people, and expect to be treated with respect [that translates to if you try to ignore them, they won’t go away until you have listened to their complaint/comment]. This is not you thinking through some of the faults of your story, but seeing that character scolding you for horribly misrepresenting their personality or making them do something they didn’t want to do. A good indication that they’re a Second World character is when they have comments or suggestions about scenes that have nothing to do with them, or even their story. And when your character is making comments about your daily life, as in you’re walking down the street and Bam! They have something to say about that person you passed, or what you just told your friend (or what they think of your friend), then congratulations you’ve just found a Second Worlder.
Finally, there is that one, particular Second World character that you may or may not encounter on your literary journey. This type of Second Worlder is known as your Alter Ego. You only have one, you only get one. If you invent a character called your Alter Ego, write a story about it, and it doesn’t fit the characteristics of a Second Worlder, then you haven’t found it; keep looking. Your Alter Ego will be your most prominent Second World character, and they will have a comment about every story. Sometimes they’re quiet (praise the Lord!), and sometimes they keep you up for hours at night, digging their heels into the ground until they get their way. Alter Egos are as varied as human personality types and combinations; there is no ‘one-siz-fits-all’ description for Alter Egos. But believe me, when you find yours, you’ll know.
Addendum: Inter-authorial Interactions
If you are ever blessed to have your own Second Worlders, and you find another writer who has Second World characters as well, then be warned! If your characters discover each other’s existence, you will become their mouthpiece for cross-culture conversations. I have a friend who has Second World characters as well, and some of the conversations I’ve had with her and her characters have been very interesting. I have debated with her characters, she has talked with mine, and we have become the translators for discussions between our characters, where we did little more than relay how our characters reacted to the other characters’ statements. On one occasion my villain-maker (Second Worlder that designs all the villains) had a discussion on villain-philosophy with her entire group of villains, and our Alter Egos have argued with each other (claws came out on that one). All of that is on top of the friendly critiquing we’ve done of each other’s stories [often being interrupted during a comment on the story to break out into a character/author argument]. So may you all be blessed with the gift of Second Worlders and the joy that comes with them!