Identifying with characters

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Identifying with characters

Post by Enail on Thu Feb 12, 2015 4:22 pm

I've been thinking about the whole idea of identifying with characters lately, so, question time!

How do you tend to identify with characters in fiction? Not just the normal level of rooting for the character and getting in their head, or "I really like this character," but those times when you say "Hey, that person's like me! somehow," when you get a shock of recognition. How does it affect you? What characters/what kind of characters have you identified with most strongly?


How do you identify with characters and how does it affect you?

I rarely see characters that I relate to in terms of recognizing a fundamental me-ness. I'm just that special a snowflake Wink

But stories are very important to me, and I'll often use fictional characters to figure out how to mentally sort an aspect of myself, so at various times, it's meant a lot to me to see characters that represent that aspect of my identity even if they're not generally much like me. But at the same time, I'm not a huge fan of realistic fiction and I don't like anything that veers towards 'after school special,' so sometimes it's hard to find characters that fulfill that desire in the kind of stories I care about.

What characters/what kind of characters have you identified with the most?

Since I've been on crutches, I've developed a ridiculous amount of interest in every random walk-on (or, er, hobble-on, or roll-on) disabled character - it feels like there's a spotlight shone right on them the entire time they're on camera. Seriously, the dude in Guardians of the Galaxy with a prosthetic leg? I was rooting for that dude so hard! A big part of my interest in watching Agent Carter is that there's a disabled character who's competent and active in the plot, and genuinely affected by his disability.

I think I've mentioned before here that the first time I saw queer female characters in a fantastical/action/adventure story was instrumental in sorting out the fact that I was gay. (It was Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune from Sailor Moon. (SHUT UP! Razz))

In a much less "capital I Identity" way, Ben from Parks and Rec. The way he spends his unemployment feverishly working on two seconds of a stopmotion film, the bizarre, convoluted board game he came up with, there's something about it that's very me-like. I've just never seen another character who thinks and enthuses with a particular kind of weirdness that feels so much like mine. There's something kind of cool about seeing someone like me! Like, I've been approved as a character type! I'm real! Shiny/thrilled
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Re: Identifying with characters

Post by waxingjaney on Thu Feb 12, 2015 7:44 pm

"How do you identify with characters and how does it affect you?"

I would say that I don't.
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Re: Identifying with characters

Post by TheRoux on Thu Feb 12, 2015 8:47 pm

How do you identify with characters and how does it affect you?

There are two things I identify with:
1. The characters who I feel are like me (kind of)... the underdogs. They have poor self-estime and people don't see them as someone who could succeed (until they do that is...)

2. The characters I feel are like what I would be if I was in their place. They are mostly super heroes who are trying to live a normal life as well as a superhero one.

What characters/what kind of characters have you identified with the most?

1. Eli Wallace from Stargate Universe. Universe has been my favorite series of all the Stargate franchise, because of the pacing and also the character development which seemed more realistic... I really felt the danger, the panic, more in Universe than in SG1 for example. I felt the emotions more too, from Eli Wallace above all others. Because Eli is kind of a nice guy.

Eli is a computer genius (I'm not...) and he get stuck on the Ship Destiny along with other people (soldiers, politicians, etc.). Amongst them is Chloe Armstrong, and he immediatly fall in love with her. In the first few episodes, you see them together a lot; She is clearly distrought, and he's there to comfort her. And then, out of the blue, the series show a scene where Chloe is sleep with Matthew Scott, another main character (young soldier), while Eli is all alone in his own bedroom, not knowing what's happening in the other room. What struck me with this scene is how little (read inexistant) interaction between Chloe and Matthiew was shown prior to sleeping together. The way I interpret it is that there had been interactions between them but Eli was simply not aware... All that time, I was rooting for Eli to have a shot at the lovely girl and then BAM!! Eli's hope... my hopes were crushed... It takes some time, but in the end, Eli finally manage to move on and be on friendly terms with her... but not before risking his life to save her's. Before leaving her alone to do some critical work than only he can do (to save everyone on the ship, including her), he'll say: "Whatever happens, you know, right?" I've got way too many feelz for this guy... Even later, he gets a girlfriend, a girl from another group of people they encountered... AND SHE DIES... All this cumulated together make us feel that this guy will never have a happy ending. He will surely die alone, sacrificing himself to save people who don't even see his real worth...

2. Peter Parker from The Amazing Spiderman 1-2: That guy is I think the most human and most relatable superhero ever made. All the others are either Super billionnaires or part of a super mutant group living in a secret base, flying very techy stealth planes and stuff. (Clark Kent comes close second but he's simply too powerful a character to be relatable in my opinion...) Peter is just a kid... right out of university... he's still a bit immature and dreams of romance. And them BAM... super powers. He's confused, excited and terrified, all at the same time. But it gives him confidence... and that confidence gives him a shot at what he wanted: romance. But juggling with both normal and super life is not easy... and in the end, the woman of his dreams dies... So we feel he must do what all superheroes do... abandon all pretense of a real life and commit all to the superhero, a life of loneliness, otherwise, people he loves will get hurt.

Honnorable mention to The Doctor from Doctor Who. He's awesome, funny, brilliant, he saves the world countless times... and he's extremely lonely. That's why he's got companions all the time. But even then, the companions leave, each and everyone of them... because, they can't go on, because the Doctor leaves them in fear of them getting hurt, or because they die.

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Re: Identifying with characters

Post by nearly_takuan on Fri Feb 13, 2015 12:10 am

I still sometimes have trouble making words out of my thoughts, which is odd because my thoughts usually are made of words, but that is the way it is.

So, often I'll become more attached to a character and more impressed by the author when the character has a thought like my thoughts, or behaves exactly as I have, for exactly the same indescribable reasons, in other words explaining a feeling that I cannot explain myself.

Hrathen's sudden not-sudden revelations during the events of Elantris, for instance, are similar to thoughts I've had, previously and since and many times over, regarding my childhood faith and my parents' faith and my current non-faith. No matter my religious status when I read or reread the story, Hrathen seems to "get" me. He may not represent my beliefs, but in some essential way he represents a philosophical aspect of myself that feels deeper than faith or morality.

I've mentioned before that I connect strongly with Tadashi and Hiro of Big Hero 6. I do think their Japanese American-ness has a lot to do with it, but I also recognize a lot of other things about myself in them. I feel like they understand me, because of how thoroughly I understand them, and because it comes through the subtext. I know of strong sibling-bonds and weak parent-bonds. I don't know Hiro's sheer grief first-hand, but I know the symptomatic cycles of loneliness and depression. I know the feeling of valuing and wanting friends while also wanting distance. I know the feeling of not wanting to let go of pain, of seeing happiness as a threat. I know the experience of catching a glimpse of your own reflection and realizing, is that...am I...smiling?! Tadashi's wishes for Hiro parallel mine for my sister, and Hiro's emotional whiplash resembles the best and worst days of my own life. I don't imagine I'm unique in feeling that way, of course!

There is a scene in Shadow of the Hegemon, I believe, wherein Bean observes an adult soldier at work and captures one of my own thoughts rather perfectly. Sticks in my memory. But I'll have to quote the entire paragraph for it to make sense, I think; I'll see if I can find my copy when I get home.

But generally, I guess I relate well to characters whose arcs have themes of helplessness, confusion, and occasionally reveling in small triumphs.
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Re: Identifying with characters

Post by reboot on Fri Feb 13, 2015 12:22 am

I tend to identify with relatively hard and competent, but with hidden sentiment and loyalty, characters. George Smiley in his various iterations, Ethel in American Horror Story, Gus in Breaking Bad, Granny/Claudia in the Americans, Glenn in Walking Dead TV (although he is a bit more sentimental than my normal type). I think it might be because I wish I was more like them than that I am like them.
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Re: Identifying with characters

Post by The Wisp on Fri Feb 13, 2015 12:56 am

When I was a teen I tended to identify with characters who are lonely, often feel aggrieved, and emotionally messed up but also very intelligent and perceptive. Often I further identified with characters who have the aforementioned traits and who use their intelligence to manipulate people and/or cut through the bullshit of human interaction and get to the heart of the matter in a witty and/or cutting way, even if they are assholes in the process. I think it was kinda a power fantasy of mine given that I felt lonely, aggrieved, emotionally messed up, intelligent, perceptive, and powerless over others, so seeing characters like me having control and power felt good, even if they were often not good people and, ultimately, I was happy that they lost at the end. I still have a soft spot for characters like that and enjoy their presence in fiction.

So, characters who have both the former and latter set of traits are characters like the fictionalized Ex-President Nixon from Frost/Nixon, Dr. House, Loki from the Marvel movies (I've never read the comics), Sherlock Holmes in the BBC's Sherlock, and Severus Snape. So two villains, one villain/anti-hero, and two anti-heroes... maybe that was also a manifestation of my low self-esteem if I still thought they deserved to lose?

Another set of characters I identify with are intelligent but also socially awkward and aloof, bonus points if they have past demons. My three favorite Mass Effect characters were Thane, Liara, and Samara. Apparently the latter two aren't typically chosen as favorite characters, but I identified with each pretty strongly in their general aloofness and separateness from society.


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Re: Identifying with characters

Post by Conreezy on Fri Feb 13, 2015 2:01 am

What characters/what kind of characters have you identified with the most?

Ever since I was a kid, I've been more interested in second-rate supporting characters, mostly the people who show up to help the story's hero in some way, then go on about their own business. Wedge Antilles, Maria Hill, and Felix Geada (in the early seasons of BSG) come to mind as people who are as heroic as the main protagonists while staying free of the melodramatic BS.

I root for them because I tend to roll my eyes at some of the decisions the main characters make from behind their plot armor. Those ancillary people (as far as the audience knows) are dependable, professional, humble, and mature. They've always seemed like the stuff of heroes to me. I've always identified with them because they seem like the type of person who just works on their little corner of the universe, not the type who wants to be in the middle of titanic struggles, taking on immense power to change the world.

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Re: Identifying with characters

Post by eselle28 on Fri Feb 13, 2015 2:30 am

I generally like pragmatic schemers who aren't necessarily physically all that confrontational - I enjoy George Smiley and Claudia on The Americans as well, and my favorites on Game of Thrones are Littlefinger and Varys. I'm not sure to what extent that's because I am like those people and to what extent I just tend to enjoy the plots that someone who operates in that way can pull off, though.

This is a weird point of identification, so bear with me and remember that I only am talking about one specific personality trait, not the entire person! I sometimes identify with the way that Sterling Archer has this collection of fairly intense but very specific interests that don't really match each other, to the extent that he'll probably never meet anyone who likes all the same things he does, and how he's not ashamed to mention his love of Burt Reynolds or animals but is also pretty comfortable with the fact that no one else around him is going to love Kenny Loggins like he does.
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Re: Identifying with characters

Post by Werel on Fri Feb 13, 2015 8:25 pm

How do you identify with characters and how does it affect you?

Like Enail, I tend to identify characters that embody some aspect of myself. Thinking of them in situations where that aspect is required can be helpful, silly as that sounds--if I need the grim determination to act on my principles in the face of hopeless adversity, "what would Doc Cochran do?" can help me push myself to do it.

What characters/what kind of characters have you identified with the most?

I tend to identify with characters who:

  • Are torn between their desires to be very kind, and their ability/impulses to be very cruel (anybody who's been a teenage girl [or probably a teenage boy, too], you hear me on this?). Bonus points if they're at the mercy of a bunch of powerful, conflicting emotions that they don't understand yet. Enid Coleslaw (Ghost World) rang a bunch of bells for me as a teenager, and Lindsey Weir on Freaks and Geeks is the closest thing to my high school self I've ever seen on TV (good intentions, bad decisions, hopelessly drawn to the weirdos and fuckups who frequently make life tough for her).
  • Are healers with a bleak outlook, alleviating suffering because they have a pressing sense that this world is mostly suffering. The despairing cleric par excellence. Watching Deadwood recently I was thinking to myself "am I in love with Doc Cochran, or am I Doc Cochran?" Both, I guess, since he's a version of my idealized self: sharp-tongued, impatient, deeply compassionate, unbudging in his core principles but entirely laissez-faire about any action or lifestyle that doesn't directly harm others.
  • Can't help but mouth off to authority figures and get in trouble for it. Who really delight in being disobedient, and who make jokes at the darkest moments, because what else are you going to do? Jasper, the old hippie from Children of Men, is pretty much who I hope to be as an old lady (if I get shot for sassing the cops who've come looking for a refugee, it'll be a good death). Even as a little kid I remember being totally enamored with cartoon smartasses in the Bugs Bunny/Yakko Warner vein.
  • Are women who struggle with that fact, have a lot of heartache over how they perceive their gender, and try to fit into men's roles with limited success. Try very hard to hide any weakness, but are falling apart inside. Casca (Berserk) hit a little too close to home the first time I watched it. Calamity Jane (the Deadwood version: a loud, drunk, abrasive, androgynous, heartbroken trainwreck trying to pick fights with anything that moves) has a special place in my heart too.
  • Are dangerous. I wish I couldn't say I identified with the unnamed protagonist (called Isserley in the book version) of Under the Skin, but that vacant, cold, predatory state is something I know is inside me and it's really gratifying to see it depicted (if only to remind me how important it is to suppress it). It is helpful to see the very worst parts of myself portrayed by fictional characters, because it helps me identify the ways they might manifest, and gives me strength and motivation to combat those parts of me.  
  • Have a hopeless yearning towards the supernatural and/or an ongoing crisis of faith. Franny (Franny and Zooey) in a depressive stupor on the couch, clutching her weird little book about the mystical tradition of constant prayer, was one of the first times I read a girl character in fiction where I was like "hey! Wow! That's me!"

I almost never see a character who I identify with 100% or who combines more than a couple of the above traits, but that's okay! I don't think anybody maps perfectly well onto fictional characters. I just like being able to match allegorical faces/voices to parts of myself, which makes it a lot easier to sort out my thoughts when trying to make a tough decision: let the pertinent characters argue with each other until one of them wins. Smile
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Re: Identifying with characters

Post by bomaye on Sat Feb 14, 2015 4:19 am

Characters who can speak my language or maybe mirror some of the struggles I've had are characters I root for the hardest. I can get pretty emotional about them when things are done right.

I've always had a thing for the observant outsider character in a cast. The character who's both a regular in the world but also the stranger in the strange land. Star Trek always has one.

Welcome to the NHK was probably the first anything that intimately spoke my language on what being alone is really like.

Madarame from Genshiken hits me pretty good because there are heavy-duty elements of myself in him
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Re: Identifying with characters

Post by Prajnaparamita on Sat Feb 14, 2015 4:58 pm

On further thought, I think I understand now what characters I identify with, and that is those that don’t exactly match my life story, but match aspects of my personality that have just manifested in different ways for them. For instance, as overused and shallow as the trope has become, I think whoever came up with the idea of the tsundere actually had a fairly good grasp of human psychology. For instance, the tsundere generally regards herself as strong and independent (either from supernatural powers or her own strength) and then all of a sudden she faces this unfamiliar feeling of attraction, a feeling she absolutely is overwhelmed by because all of a sudden she feels overwhelmingly vulnerable (and what is initial attraction but vulnerability really? It's feeling like this person has your happiness in their hands, and they don’t even realize that power), an emotion she doesn’t know how to accept or process. So she ends up taking it out on him, the mysterious originator of her confused feelings. Sure, that’s not a very mature thing to do, (but can you really blame Shana of Shakugan no Shana et al for being pissed about having to always fall for amorphous personality-free blobs of Marty Sues?) but that’s another aspect of a character that I really identify with—the struggle between maturity and wisdom beyond your years and the impulses youthful immaturity. Which incidentally is something people often say describes me a lot. These are the young, often female (though Edward Elric from Fullmetal Alchemist has long been a hero of mine) characters that are sometimes immature, petty, irrational and stubborn but ultimately loyal to those that matter and their personal beliefs and strive to do what is right in the end.

Some examples from classical literature are Natasha from War and Peace and Zerlina from Don Giovanni. Watching Natasha grow up and mature was the only thing that kept me slogging through hundreds of pages of stilted dialogue from one-dimensional caricatures of Russian soldiers, while she attemps to (and sometimes fails) to live up to the expectations of the adult world she is entering into. Also her romance with the sexy, suave, brilliant, complicated and captivating Andre… Swoon. (Though I STILL can’t believe that she ended up with that ineffectual, nebbish, hopelessly passive and diffident amorphous personality-free blob that was Pierre. I mean, Andre dying in her arms was one thing, but Pierre was SO CLOSE to being executed by French troops during the invasion of Moscow, and it would have THE MOST SATISFYING moment in the entire book if he had JUST DIED. If people are correct that Pierre was Tolstoy’s Marty Sue in the book, I understand why so many of his personal relationships were so strained. If I ever get a time machine, the first thing I’m going to do is make Tolstoy rewrite the story to have it end with Napoleon personally punting Pierre off the top of Saint Basil’s Cathedral and Andre taking Natasha back and the two of them living happily ever after.) Zerlina of Mozart’s Don Giovanni is the only interesting female character in the entire opera, someone who knows where to find happiness and has worked towards it, only to temporarily stumble and fall when faced with the promise of an impossibly fabulous life beyond her wildest dreams. But when she comes to realize she has been tricked, and has hurt the man she loves, she does everything she can to make things right. (Because really, when faced with a serial rapist who has consistently proven himself to be above the law, do you really have any other choice than to run around with a knife trying to tie him down and chop off his balls?) She’s also the only character who really goes on continuing to live after Don Giovanni’s fall—she was affected by him, but not defined by him. (Okay, the “Batti, batti O bel Masetto” thing was creepy, but this was written in 1780. By men.)

Somebody mentioned Welcome the NHK, and Misaki Nakahara is the darkest extreme of the characters I’m drawn to, where low self esteem, insecurity and co-dependency are far closer to the surface and the need to do the right thing and make good in the world are far more twisted. But even she eventually makes right.

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Re: Identifying with characters

Post by nearly_takuan on Sun Feb 15, 2015 5:18 pm

Found it.

Orson Scott Card wrote:The soldiers who waited for them in the hall wore the uniform of the I.F. Not a Greek uniform was in sight. And these young men were armed to the teeth. As they walked briskly to the stairs--no elevators, no doors that might suddenly open to leave them trapped in a box for an enemy to toss a grenade or a few thousand projectiles--Bean watched the way the soldier in the lead watched everything, checked every corner, the light under every door in the hall, so that nothing could surprise him. [...] This was what a man was supposed to be. This was a soldier.
I was never a soldier, thought Bean. [...] He might be male, he might be human, or at least humanesque, but he would never be manly. No one would ever look at him and say, Now, that's a man.

I guess I don't identify with Bean. I don't think I really identify with that scene either, now that I reread the elided details. The author, maybe? It's the phrases I continue to recall. Descriptions that surpass what I could express without quoting, even to myself. And it doesn't really matter to me if a character's personality, actions, thoughts, motivations, etc. are radically different from my own; they can still show a glimpse of a thought that I recognize.
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Re: Identifying with characters

Post by InkAndComb on Sun Feb 15, 2015 5:50 pm

Thinking on this, I identify a lot with characters coming of
age (Firethorn) and struggling with authority figures as a necessary right of passage. Here I'm thinking Golden Compass; I don't know why but the moment I read that book it was like looking my childself in the face the first time I angrily asked an adult "but WHY". Even if I don't always think things are that simple, I also like her thought process a lot. She is flawed and selfish, but who isn't at her age? And her creature encouraging her to do what's best and her struggle with that reminds me of the difference between self care and jerk brain. Maybe it sounds immature but I tend to like a lot of young adult novel protagonists due to the struggles they have internally (tamora pierce esp.) And many of the novels I read that aren't YA tend to be character driven in a different flavor.
The most niche I relate to would be characters that get committed, therapy, or have been experimented on. Often times in fiction this gets taken to an extreme, but having gone through a lot of....studies, and been helpless in upsetting situations, these characters feel like family to me and I hurt and get angry for and cry with them. It's very cathartic, even if the SO gives me weird looks. Characters that are darker than me but have shared experiences make me able to look at parts of me that are dark, and embrace them as part of what it means to be human. This is probably why I have such an aversion to the innocent character who swoops in to help with the suffering without understanding it, and such feels for the "only bad due to bad treatment" villains
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