Okay, get ready to laugh at me.
Ready . . .
Ready . . .
Are you ready for it?
Here we go:
I’ve been working on this particular meme for roughly two years.
Yes. I know. In my defense, though, it was a really hard meme.
The instructions are simple. (Deceptively so.) List five fictional characters you closely identify with, and then explain why. Not five characters you admire, or find attractive, or think are funny, but five characters that you personally—like, as a person—identify with.
Now, let’s be very clear. It’s not that I consider myself to be such a mystery that I’m unquantifiable, and it’s not that no one ever appreciates or writes about people like me. It’s just that my type hardly ever shows up as more than a peripheral role—the literary equivalent to a walk-on. (In fact, some of my personal five are walk-ons.)
The following list can be roughly categorized by tropes (okay, sometimes the tropes are stupid-specific ones that I kind of made up, but still, I am organized. Look how organized I am!)
Also, some of the character descriptions may seem to sit in direct conflict with each other, but that’s not really true. Because inside, I think that a person can really be a lot of people, depending on the situation.
My list of Brennaesque characters reads as follows:
The Comic Relief
Luna Lovegood—Harry Potter. So, when I was in high school, I had this very bizarre sense of fashion. It was heavily influenced by my nonexistent budget, but also, it was kind of made worse by my affinity for … trinkets. I mean, I decorated everything. I sewed plastic Christmas ornaments on my sweaters and glued tiny dollhouse clocks to my shoes. I went out in public wearing rubber monster finger puppets. Plural. More than one.
I didn’t usually volunteer opinions, but if you asked, I’d certainly tell you what I thought. Regardless of how blunt or inconsiderate or strange it was. And sometimes I knew that I shouldn’t, but most of the time, diplomacy didn’t even occur to me. Because honesty is a virtue and precision matters. Because when you are Luna Lovegood, things mostly seem to sort themselves out. Sometimes you’re mildly perturbed when people call you crazy, but there’s really no point in being tragic about it.
Also, in order to make people start taking you seriously, you’d have to stop doing all the things you like. And well, that’s no fun.
Foxface—The Hunger Games. I love action/horror/adventure to a embarrassing degree, but I have to be honest. A good chunk of my reading/viewing time is spent thinking things like, “Wow, they are terribly, terribly unprepared,” or, “I would . . . not ever do that.”
Narratively speaking, Foxface is super-minor. She doesn’t even have a real name. However, she’s the first character I’ve come across who approaches survivalism in what I consider to be a reasonable way. She’s measured. Meticulous. Her combat style is nonexistent, which means that it constantly takes everyone by surprise.
I hung out with boys growing up. The corollary to this is that I played a lot of paintball, laser tag, and cross-country capture the flag. And over the years, I’ve been called out again and again for not playing fair—not engaging, avoiding skirmishes and firefights, never giving up my position or forging alliances. Apparently, people who enjoy loud, messy shootouts consider this behavior cowardly. Another word for it is conservative. Another word is mercenary. Another is pragmatic. To me, these are all words for effective.
The Reluctant Strategist
Valentine Wiggin—Ender’s Game. She’s too passive in character and in action to ever take over the world, which is a trait I totally, totally relate to. She understands how power works, but it frightens her. She’s an archivist, not a leader, and her ambitious and psychopathic brother Peter constantly takes advantage of her, because he knows all her weak points. He knows she can help him get what he wants politically, because she understands how the game is played while not actually wanting any of the rewards for herself.
She isn’t oblivious to this, and there are even times when she secretly suspects she may be smarter than Peter. But she also knows it doesn’t matter. He’s still going to rise to power and crush the world, with her help or without it, and no matter how tragic the outcome or the consequences will be, (here’s the kicker, the thing that makes her complex and surprising and just a little bit scary) there’s this tiny, guilty, anarchistic part of her that finds the idea so, so liberating.
Allison Cleve Dufresnes—The Little Friend. This is a little bit of a cheat, because I don’t currently resemble Allison at all. At sixteen though, I was kind of a dead ringer for her.
Allison is shy and vague and just a little … off. She might possibly be pretty, if she wasn’t so awkward. She might turn out to be smart, if she only made an effort. She could have friends if she ever made eye-contact or expressed interest or asked people questions about themselves.
But she doesn’t. Instead, she spends all her time alone or hanging around with her little sister or her aunts. She likes babies and animals and making candy from scratch. She hates conflict, noise, and the fact that things die. She never knows for sure if she’s awake, or only dreaming.
If boys call her on the phone to ask her out, she’s so mortified and confounded that her anxiety comes off as total indifference. In fact, my early to mid-adolescence can be pretty much summed up in her one-word response to Pemberton Hull’s invitation to come with him to the drive-in. She replies slowly, almost drowsily, “Why?”
Alice—The Magicians. This is the one I never in a million years thought that I would actually find. This is the girl-like-me who has more than minor bearing on the plot—the girl who actually does something.
In a lot of ways, Alice is the condensed version of a bunch of my character traits—worst and best. She’s good at what she does, but reluctant to put herself out into the world. She’s capable of an almost scary determination, but most of the time she just lets herself be buffeted around for the sake of keeping the peace. While everyone around her is busy acting ironic and sophisticated, and pretending so hard to be disaffected, she recognizes the whole performance as fake, but doesn’t really try to change any of them.
She’s timid, and because of this, her main-character boyfriend, Quentin, is always, always underestimating her. And most of the time, she doesn’t really prove him wrong. (Except this time. And some other ones.) Because the thing is, when she’s not actively destroying things, she looks pretty harmless.
(Also, sometimes when I don’t sleep for a long time, I get the very surreal feeling that [what happens to Alice at the end of the book] is going to happen to me. Any second. Like BLAM, it will be unavoidable.)
(Then I take a deep breath and eat some Sweetarts and go make a pie.)
Okay, now that I’ve actually had a chance to look back through my list, I’m feeling slightly egomaniacal. I’ve picked just a slew of characters notable for their talent or their cleverness, which is something pretty close to fraud. After all, I am not nearly as smart as Valentine Wiggin. I can’t magically turn a marble into a tiny glass horsey and trot it around on the tabletop like Alice. I would die in two seconds in the Hunger Games.
The thing about fictional characters is, they’re kind of awesome.
Even the timid or the selfish ones. Even the ones who act impulsively or tell lies or make terrible decisions. Fictional characters never leave the house without brushing their hair or forget to do their laundry, or if they do, it’s kind of endearing, because it’s not real life. Even the irritating or the commonplace things start to seem a little magical in fiction.
So I think that maybe that’s the nature of the exercise—we just have to accept the incongruity between real and pretend, and pick the characters who most closely represent our better selves.
What about you? Do you have a fictional character you relate to? A handful of them? A motif or a type or a trope that speaks to you?
(I promise, even if they’re inhumanly awesome, it’s not egomaniacal to say that you see a little of yourself in them. That’s kind of what fiction is for.)