Better Late (Five Fictional Characters)

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.

The Enigma

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.

The Waif

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?”

The Heroine

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.)

6 thoughts on “Better Late (Five Fictional Characters)

  1. Fairly sure it’s going to take me at least a few weeks to even consider creating my own list! I can say that I identify very easily what you saw in these characters that resembles Brenna. Luna Lovegood in particular made me laugh out loud, because your unique fashion and very gentle speech patterns do remind me of her quite a bit. I’ll do some thinking, and get back to you. This will be a good exercise for me, and my organizational skills!

    • It’s like one of those questions where you have a pretty good idea of what the answer is—right up until someone asks you! (This is why I have an awful time telling people what my favorite book or movie or song is, because I totally, totally know … until I actually have to think about it.) So, whenever you think of someone, come back and let me know!

      Also, Luna Lovegood: literally the only character ever that multiple people have compared me to independently of each other to :D

  2. Two years? No worries. Your last post about Jane hits pretty close to home right now and I’ve been debating whether or not to reply to it. It seems like most people take about five seconds to hit the reply button.

    She who was left behind: Since high school, I’ve been afraid that I am Laura from The Glass Menagerie in the way that she sort of sabotages herself and in the way that tragedy seems inevitable. During the lecture on Emily Dickinson in American Lit, I remember the entire class turning to look at me as the teacher talked about the poet’s personal life. I’m hoping that they just made the association because I was slight, quiet and a little morbid, and not because I or my loved ones somehow have an elevated risk of contracting tuberculosis. Actually, I hate it when people see me this way. But if I’m honest, I have to admit that they do.

    • During the lecture on Emily Dickinson in American Lit, I remember the entire class turning to look at me as the teacher talked about the poet’s personal life.

      I love this image because it’s just *so* surreal. And also probably because it wasn’t happening to me. (I hate when everyone turns to look at me.) It’s like something that belongs in a Wes Anderson movie, maybe. Something with a subdued color palette, but outrageous patterns.

      I’m hoping that they just made the association because I was slight, quiet and a little morbid, and not because I or my loved ones somehow have an elevated risk of contracting tuberculosis.

      Ha!

      (Also, if it ever turns out you want to talk about the Jane post, it will still be there. There’s no set window on these things, and I’m in full support of taking the right amount of time to hit the reply button.)

  3. I think it would take me two years to make this list myself, but I think I’m similar to you in that I totally identified with Valentine, Luna and Foxface when I read those books. (I haven’t read the last two on your list, but I’m adding them to my holds list right now.) 

    I’d never really thought about it, but you totally nailed it when you said that Valentine “understands how the game is played while not actually wanting any of the rewards for herself“, because that is so me. As I described it to my mom, the current education system wants everyone to fit in the box. I see the box. I’ll look in the box. I want to know everything ever about the box, but there is no way I’m going to go in it. Also, when we studied 1984 in English earlier this year, I think I terrified everyone when I talked about how the Party was going about it the wrong way, not taking over the world properly, and I set up a plan for how to rule the world most interestingly. Not that I WANT to take over the world, but as Sarah Rees Brennan once said, I do like creating and destroying worlds with my brain.

    Foxface. God, I loved Foxface. Her method was exactly the same as mine would have been. I even won the Hunger Games writing contest, How Would You Survive, by emulating her strategy. I said I would hide and steal food, and run away, waiting until it was me versus another, and then I’d kill them from a distance with an arrow. (Because in real life, I am actually good at archery.)

    Also, only recently have I become like Luna, totally unafraid of what others think of me. I greatly admired Luna for that when I was  growing up, and tried to emulate her, not necessarily trying to be ridiculous, just trying to be unrestrained by societal norms.

    People often compare me to Hermione because I’m bossy and smart with bushy hair. I like to think I’m like her, but at the same time, she’s SUCH a predictable choice. 

    I love C-3PO from Star Wars, because he is ALWAYS right and no one ever listens to him because he’s so obnoxious in his rightness. My mom says I’m a lot like him… which I kind of like. I mean, he’s undeniably brilliant and awesome and a rule-follwer, and though he’s totally annoying, he’s loyal to the end.

    Sheldon Cooper from Big Bang Theory is a lot like C-3PO, in that he doesn’t know how to deal with society and people, and also in that people often tell me I’m a lot like Sheldon. My mom refuses to call me Sheldon, saying that she will gladly call me Sheldon (and thus ignore my various social deficiencies) when I have two PhDs and a job like Sheldon’s.  So, yeah. He doesn’t understand sarcasm, he can’t simplify explanations, he’s really rude and rather self-centred, all of which I struggle with CONSTANTLY.

    It might seem conceited in that all of these characters are brilliant, but they’re all really bad at relating to people. And I am so bad at social interaction. So so bad.

    Mild Graceling Spoilers Below:

    I’m also a little like Katsa from Graceling. She wants to be in control. She NEEDS to be in control, always. She never wants to marry, citing the fact that she never wants kids. I chalk that up more to the fact that she doesn’t want anyone to control her, because at one point she says in narration that she couldn’t marry Po because even if he gave her freedom, he would be GIVING it to her. It wouldn’t be hers. I’m a lot like that. I have commitment issues, attachment issues, and a desperate need to be in control. So I’m a lot like Katsa in that regard.

    Graceling Spoilers Over

    Unlike your list, I identify more negatively with my list. I really can’t think of a character with whom I positively identify.

    So, this didn’t take me two years, but rather a week. Either way, I had to think about it a lot, and I’ll probably be mentally revising it for some time to come.

    • Ooh, now I’m excited for you that you get to read The Magicians for the first time! (It’s kind of bleak in some ways because it’s basically about post-high-school nihilism, but it’s ALSO about a magicians’ college, only like if Hogwarts were MIT, which is totally how it would *actually* be.)

      As I described it to my mom, the current education system wants everyone to fit in the box. I see the box. I’ll look in the box. I want to know everything ever about the box, but there is no way I’m going to go in it.

      That was also me! And because it was also me, it’s always seemed like such an obvious thing, that there would be this whole spectrum of people who aren’t motivated by praise or ambition or following instructions, but respond to less quantifiable things, like challenges or curiosity or desire to be of service to their communities, or whatever. (Unfortunately, not the number-one focus of schools …)

      Not that I WANT to take over the world

      Hahaha—yes! I like solving the problem of taking over the world. Once we get into practical applications though, I tend to lose interest immediately. And that is why I will never-ever be any type of overlord. (Also, I hatehatehate being in charge of anything except myself.)

      The Big Bang Theory is such a weird show to me. I keep trying to like it, but then usually wind up turning it off, and I think it’s because of the laugh-track. Like, it’s right there all the time, insisting that Sheldon’s very thought process is somehow hilarious. He’ll say something out of the blue, like, “So, the problem with teleportation,” and then the laugh-track comes on and I’m still just sitting there, thinking “Wait, why is that funny? I want to know the problem with teleportation! Why is it funny that he thinks about teleportation? Don’t you ever think about teleportation, Laugh-Track People?” (Etc.)

      It might seem conceited in that all of these characters are brilliant, but they’re all really bad at relating to people.

      This is one of those phenomenons that I find sooo fascinating, and the only explanation I can really come up with is that maybe the more thinky someone is, the worse they tend to be at interactions that require a kind of automatic split-second comprehension (i.e., social situations, which are a neverending series of split-second comprehensions). Instead, strongly analytical people seem to get stuck … analyzing, when maybe it’s not even something that needs to be analyzed. Which might be why I spent most of high school and college constantly going off script and having people blink at me a lot.

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