A young woman walks into a hotel lounge. It’s a very classy joint, quiet and elegant. She takes a seat at the bar next to a burly older guy in an expensive suit, and waits for him to strike up a conversation. For a few minutes they chat, and he begins to flirt with her. She’s clearly responsive, clearly getting interested. There is eye contact, she laughs at his wit, she begins to lightly, briefly touch him — her hand brushing his, a light press of her knee against his leg. Soon they are plotting to go up to her room; she leaves first so they can be “discrete.” He follows, her key in his sweaty hand. He lets himself into her room, where she will be nude, eager for him, soaking in a hot tub.
But she is gone. She has disappeared into the night.
What just happened? She nailed him. She’s a detective, working for the man’s wife. And now she has the video proof that he is willing to cheat on her client. The woman is a pro, a “fidelity checker.” (Yeah, they really exist.)
The detective, a fictional creation, is highly skilled at some dimensions of social intelligence. She knows exactly what to say, what to do, in order to get “the husbands” to tip their hands, to reveal their eagerness to betray their partners. It’s what she does, and she does it very, very well. She’s the perfect professional femme fatale.
In my new article in The Writer magazine (Dec 2010), I talk about ways in which writers, particularly fiction writers, can use a knowledge of social intelligence to develop more realistic and interesting characters.* The point I try to make is that if you consider the four key dimensions of social intelligence, it gives you a tremendous matrix of possibilities for enriching a fictional universe.
Consider the first dimension: self-awareness, the ability to monitor and to manage your feelings. This is an essential part of social intelligence. In the real world, we vary tremendously in terms of our self-awareness, and our awareness of how we impact others. This has a huge impact on our lives, both our personal/social lives, and on our ability to work effectively with others.
In this example, the detective’s self-awareness is crucial to her ability to do her work. But like in real life, her ability to do this does not mean she’s a one-dimensional creature. Often, we have to spend a lot of energy managing our feelings, because we generally don’t have simple, “socially appropriate” ones. We may have to keep ourselves from letting fear, resentment, or disinterest from undermining us in social or work situations.
In the imaginary world of this novel, the detective actually is deeply conflicted about doing this kind of work. She makes a good living at it, and she has her own dark reasons for choosing this profession (reasons which lead her into deep peril later on.) But the key skill she has is the ability to manage, and often to conceal, her own feelings of revulsion — and self-revulsion — as she manipulates “the husbands.” So she can sit at a bar with a “cheating scumbag,” and find the inner resources to actually enjoy the guy. She can find things about him to like, and even if for just a few moments, she can become, in her own mind, a friend and potential lover. She can act the part convincingly because she really does, briefly, feel herself into it. Which is a very high level social intelligence skill. And for both writers and civilians, a very necessary one.**
*(I hope that the detective is interesting, anyway — she’s my invention, in my novel Dark Analysis which my agent, Chelsea Lindman at Nicholas Ellison, is working to find the right publisher for.)
** (Of course, the fourth skill is genuine compassion and caring. I’m certainly aware that this character, at this stage in her development, is having a deeply mixed-up set of feelings about “nailing” guys like this, and I’m not suggesting that SI is all about manipulation, however much that is probably the real agenda of a lot of people in corporate environments/marketing who want to misuse this stuff. She cares for the spouses, but part of her revulsion comes from knowing that she’s about to destroy these guys’ lives. Don’t try this at home, kids, but for a novelist, it’s catnip.)