Today’s post is an homage, if you will, to this one – The Loony Teen Writer‘s wonderful list of fictional characters with whom she identifies, which I read with a smile and a nod this morning. I’ve long had a similar post in the planning, but – as always happens when you sit on a good idea for too long – someone else beats you to the post.
Let that be a lesson, writers. And, indeed, everyone.
In any case, it’s a wonderful sunny Monday morning here, so what better time could there be for picking apart your soul and examining it for traces of literary-ness? None. Exactly.
So, out of all the characters I’ve read, which ones do I identify with most? Or, perhaps, if I could choose to be a character in a book, which one would I pick?
Top of this list, for me, would have to be Alexandra Bergson, who is a character I’ve mentioned already in a post about my important literary moments. She features in Willa Cather’s O, Pioneers! and I love her because she’s hard-working, full of deep-seated (and, sadly, too often unexpressed) passions, and at one with the land on which she lives. At the time I first ‘met’ her, I didn’t think I’d ever read a character which described me to myself quite as well as she did, for loads of reasons.
But then of course there’s the absolutely fabulous Tiffany Aching, who is a character in Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels – or, a subset of them, at least. She first appears in the book The Wee Free Men, which benefits from being absolutely hilarious (due to the presence of the titular wee free men, and also because it’s written by Terry Pratchett – obviously), and I loved her from the very first word.
The second youngest of six children, Tiffany lives a quiet life of duty, largely being ignored by her family and trying to keep her sticky, sweet-obsessed younger brother Wentworth out of trouble. When, one day, she sees a load of tiny, blue-skinned, kilt wearing men who tell her that Wentworth is in danger from a green monster who lives in the river near their home, she quickly uses her brother as bait to lure the monster out of the water and hit it, squarely, with her sturdy frying pan.
I mean, come on. What’s not to love?
Tiffany goes on to have a range of amazing adventures in the four books which feature her as a central character. From the outset, she is single-minded, sensible, intelligent, and resolutely determined to get the job (whatever ‘the job’ happens to be at the time) done, no matter what it takes. I, too, have a younger brother who was always getting me in trouble as a kid (though not the sort of trouble that required me to use household implements to fend off river monsters, unfortunately), and I am a sensible, resolute and ‘no-nonsense’ kind of person. Tiffany, and her grandmother – who is a very important character in the series, despite being dead the whole way through – were characters who seemed to fit exactly with my conception of myself. Perhaps a slightly idealised conception of myself, but no matter.
I also adore The Dog Woman, who is a character in Jeanette Winterson’s Sexing the Cherry. Unfeasibly large, covered in smallpox scars, and with a mouth large enough to hold a dozen oranges at once, The Dog Woman is mostly mythical but also very strongly corporeal. She dreams of being a mother, but knows it will never happen because she will never meet a man who is a match for her; however, when she finds her beloved son Jordan floating in the Thames, she raises him as her own until, as is inevitable, he leaves her to discover his own dreams. Her story slips between her own day, seventeenth-century London, and our own, and she is a character of fierce passion, loving devotion, loyalty, intelligence and integrity. She is fabulously realised, and central to an utterly engrossing story.
There are many characters I love in the Harry Potter universe, but I think the one I love the most is Mrs Weasley.
Of course, there’s bits of me in Hermione (the infuriating know-it-all swot who’s swallowed a dictionary, mainly), but I always latched on to Mrs Weasley as a character. The core of her family, the large-hearted woman who ‘adopts’ the orphaned Harry, who helps without question no matter what the personal cost to her and who is brave beyond measure, the definition of love, Mrs Weasley is probably not a character in whom I see myself, but in whom I wish to see myself.
In fact, I think all the characters I’ve mentioned so far have sort of been characters I wish I was like, as opposed to characters I really am like. But then, perhaps there’s no difference? I think coming across fictional characters who mean something to you tells you something not only about who you are, but also who you want to be, and what sort of personality traits and values are important to you. They can help you to uncover what you want in life and what your priorities are. If there are fictional characters you love – perhaps even without knowing why, on a conscious level – maybe it’s because something in them has chimed deeply with something in you. Not only is this an excellent reason to read (as if you needed a reason to read), but also a great way to get to know yourself a little better.
So – unless you identify strongly with Hannibal Lecter or Patrick Bateman or someone like that – do you fancy delving into your favourite characters and sharing who they are, and why you love them? Go on. You might surprise yourself.
What a great post and dissection of some brilliant characters 🙂 I’m not sure who I’d identify with as a character, I think I would be like you and end up choosing someone I wish I was like 😀
Thanks! Yeah, it’s easier to think of characters you wish you were like than ones you *are* like. I think the character I most resemble is Gimli, actually, which isn’t the most comforting of thoughts. 😀
Some good choices there! 🙂 I loved the Dog Woman for her uncompromising attitude and Mrs Weasley was definitely an ‘Everymum’ – and casting Julie Walters as her in the movies was just so RIGHT! lol Tiffany’s not someone I always like (which is unusual in that I’m a Pratchett nut, but then he’s so good at creating believable characters, so why should I have to automatically like every one) but there’s lots to admire there with her witchy talents and her no-nonsense chutzpah.
I think most people are drawn to characters who have similar traits to their own, even if they’re not an exact match – it’s an aspirational thing, so it’s inevitable that you choose someone you’d like to be ‘like’? What I find is that when I WRITE characters that I can really identify with, or admire, these are generally the ones that are most ‘successful’ at leaping off the page (for other people too) because they contain bits of me? As readers and writers I think recognition plays a huge part in how successfully we engage with a character so why wouldn’t they be similar to us, or to people that we’d like as a friend, lover etc in the real world. 😉
Yes – exactly so. Writing characters you can identify with – whether it’s in a good way or a bad one! – certainly helps to make them leap off the page. I find my bad temper and impatience are good traits to add to a character in order to make them nicely rounded – and probably these traits are the reason I love Tiffany Aching so much. 😉 I guess all we can do is hope to make our characters real, relatable and easily recognisable to the majority of readers; the more ‘real’ a character is the more likely they are to strike a chord with readers, even if they don’t ‘like’ them. A good way to do that is to imbue them with characteristics we have ourselves, or that we see in the people we love and admire.
P.S. I’m so glad to know someone else who read and loved the Dog Woman; she’s wonderful, isn’t she? Thanks so much for reading and commenting.