Thursday, June 18, 2009

Make-Believe Characters and Our Own Character

From my earliest memories, I’ve tended to get WAY too caught up in stories and characters. Since most of you out there are writers and readers, you probably know exactly what I mean. But recently, I started thinking about some of the characters that I loved most, especially when I was young, and noticed a common theme.

Almost all of the characters that I became really obsessed with and sort of lived through vicariously appeared on the surface to be weak, ordinary, or even downtrodden. But in reality, there was something special and larger-than-life about them. You know, sort of the Clark Kent/Superman thing, although Superman never became one of my passions.

One of my first major obsessions was, embarrassingly enough, Hogan’s Heroes. (I was only seven or eight years old, so give me a break!) I just adored it that the Nazis thought they had these guys as their prisoners when in reality they were successfully running a spy and sabotage ring right under their noses. I used to make up stories in my little head about the war ending and Hogan and Company revealing what had really been going on. Ha!

Then when I was 11 or 12, I fell in love with a couple of cowboys in a TV Western called Alias Smith and Jones. Or at least, they appeared to be a couple of cowboys. But Joshua Smith and Thaddeus Jones were really the famous outlaws Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry, or as the blurb at the beginning always said, “the two most successful outlaws in the history of the west. And in all the trains and banks they robbed, they never shot anyone. This made our two latter-day Robin Hoods very popular. With everyone but the banks and the railroads.” The two were trying to go straight in the show, but my favorite moments were when occasionally someone discovered who they really were—usually someone who had been trying to push them around and take advantage of them and suddenly realized they were in a heap o’ trouble!

Then came Luke Skywalker, the dorky farm boy who was in reality a Jedi in the making. And not just any Jedi, but the son of the evil Darth Vader.

And so on, and so on.

I started thinking, what does this reveal—if anything—about my character? (First of all, it probably shows I watched too much television. Although I read all the time, including a lot of those girl detective books, the obsessions tended to be over TV and movies. Hmm…)

Anyway, maybe this isn’t all that unusual. After all, isn’t most fiction about a seemingly ordinary person thrust into some extraordinary situation? Well, maybe—although I seem to be attracted to the outrageous, larger-than-life stuff—outlaws and famous spies and Jedis with a destiny to save the universe.

I thought maybe it was just that I was a dorky kid who longed to be special, who imagined how great it would be to shock everyone by revealing my true identity, and just show all of them! And that probably is part of it.

Then a few days ago, I started going through a book on the different personality and temperament types—a book which is part of Jeff Gerke’s course on creating characters—and it gave me even more to think about.

This is getting lengthy, so I’ll tell you more next time.

But what about you? Are there particular characters that you identified with when you were a kid? Can you see a common thread in the characters you love?


  1. As I think back, I don't really see a particular thread, although there very well could be one and I'm just not seeing it. I was obsessed with all kinds of shows! Lots and lots of them. I was a TV addict and I would become frantic if I had to miss one of my favorites. Sad but true. Now I almost never watch TV.

    I loved characters who were full of pathos and angst, like the beast in Beauty and the Beast. But I also loved kind of frivolous characters, like Remington Steele, although I guess because of his hidden past he might have had a bit of that pathos and angst, too. And I loved that Alias Smith and Jones show! My brother and I used to watch the re-runs. But I think I mostly liked it because I thought the guys were cute. :-) I was a hopeless romantic even as a kid.

  2. I loved Luke (still do). I always preferred him to Han Solo, though most people seem to like Han better. I like the ordinary-turned-special theme a lot, too. And maybe it has to do with underdogs making good. I loved the Karate Kid, Hoosiers, and true stories like Loretta Lynn's. But I think that is part of just about everyone's dream- becoming someone special instead of what we perceive as ordinary. I plan to explore this theme among others in some upcoming blogs, too...