Identifying with characters

Charles Butler hannibal at
Sun Nov 30 08:23:34 EST 2003

I think perhaps 'identifying with' is too broad a term for something that
may or may not include any of the following:

a) caring about what happens to a character, just as one might about a
friend, or (ideally) any real person
b) noticing a similarity (literal or metaphorical) between the character's
situation and one's own
c) noticing a similarity between the character's personality and one's own
d) approving of the character and the character's actions

I often do a), sometimes b) and d), but hardly ever c). The last point was
brought home to me strongly the other month when I read Hope Mirrlees's
*Lud-in-the-Mist* and noticed how surprised I was to find the main
character's reactions to things (and especially death) so much like my own -
it reminded me that this hardly ever happens.


----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Ven" <vendersleighc at>
To: <dwj at>
Sent: Friday, November 28, 2003 12:52 AM
Subject: Identifying with characters

> Identification with characters in one's reading
> came up sometime this month, I've been mulling it
> over ever since. Unfortunately I can't remember
> who posted or precisely what they said, so if it
> was you I apologise for any mangling of your
> opinion.
> So irrc, I think someone said they didn't
> identify with characters and, probably, didn't
> see the point. Then they connected it to the
> "Mary Sue" convention in fan fiction -- that
> "identifying" was something one did with
> characters like oneself, and as mundane as
> oneself. 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
> them.
> This kind of identification varies in strength
> and isn't necessary for my enjoyment of a book,
> although it does have to do with how often I
> reread.  A character who gives me the full on
> total immersion feeling is Robin Hobb's Fitz. I
> have just read the latest -- Fool's Fate -- and I
> am now rereading the first, Assassin, series. For
> those who haven't read the series, Fitz is
> definitely not a Mary Sue, he's a Flawed Hero if
> he is anything. It's not actually very
> comfortable identifying with Fitz, you find
> youself willing him to do the right thing knowing
> that he won't a lot of the time. And he goes
> through more physical privation and emotional
> wretchedness than even the average hero.  Worth
> it in the end though.............
> Some of the Dwj characters I have most identified
> with are Cat Chant (less so with Christopher)
> Jamie from Homeward Bounders (and Helen and
> Joris)
> Polly, Maree, Sirius (rather than Kathleen)
> Paolo Montana, Nan, Moril, Tanaqui and  Mitt.
> =====
> Ven
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