Identifying with characters

Melissa Proffitt Melissa at
Mon Dec 1 17:54:20 EST 2003

Ven was writing about identifying with characters, how it's related to the
Mary Sue fanfic thing about characters being like oneself.

On Thu, 27 Nov 2003 16:52:36 -0800 (PST), Ven wrote:

>And I thought "hmmm that doesn't sound
>like what I call identification"...... For me
>it's a question of feeling for the characters. I
>am emotionally invested in their goals, I want
>them to keep their children safe, get down off
>the icy mountain, find out who is behind it all.
>If the character's goal conflicts with what I (as
>the reader) think they should be doing I feel
>agonised. I can get immersed in their physical
>sensations too almost as though I am there with

I lean more toward the original idea of identification, but that's because
what you describe is fairly rare for me.  My bare minimum requirement for
enjoying a book is being interested in the characters, caring about what
happens to them, understanding their motivations, things like that.  I think
it's a little like what you're talking about except that I don't often get
deeply immersed in what's happening to them.  Anyway, if I don't feel this
way--if I don't care about a character, or what he's doing doesn't make
sense in the story, I won't like the book and might not finish it (depending
on how important the character is).

Identifying with a character is the next level for me, and I define it as
seeing some aspect of the character's personality or situation that I
understand at a gut level.  Either it's something I've done or been, or
something that arouses great empathy within me, but somehow I can see myself
as that character or in that situation.  The thing is, I don't really see
this as more desirable than the other.  It's interesting, and intense, but
not better.

The last level is overidentifying, and that's what I'd say happens with the
Mary Sue thing (only from the writer's perspective rather than the
reader's).  At that point, what happens to the character also happens to me.
This doesn't happen often and I'm glad of it, because it is not a good
thing.  It means that I can't approach the book objectively; I see events
and characters as they relate to "my" character and can't discuss them
rationally.  The last time this happened was with _The Merlin Conspiracy_
because I overidentified with Roddy and ended up arguing with Jacob about

I'm procrastinating doing the finances.  I don't suppose anyone wants to
start a long and complicated discussion, eh?

Melissa Proffitt

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