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Author Topic: What makes you care about fictional characters?  (Read 1635 times)

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Offline JenTrishTopic starter

What makes you care about fictional characters?
« on: March 21, 2014, 12:25:44 PM »
I like writing short stories occasionally, and this question has always boggled my mind.

What, in your opinion, makes fictional characters believable? What makes them seem real? What makes you care about said characters?

I've finished playing The Last of Us a few days ago and, I don't know, I just didn't really care about the lead characters. Friends of mine said I was heartless and insensitive (kidding around, obviously).

I mean,
TLoU spoilers
I personally can't find it in me to care about the two lead characters (which I've dubbed 'murdering machines'). When Ellie ends up killing her first bandit, she's a little shocked, but afterwards she proceeds to do it again and again without a care in the world! Joel's hard to sympathize with as well. The beginning of the game featured his daughter dying in his arms, which was a very powerful scene. But the significance of that was drowned out after you murdered about 20 guys in the next scene.

My friends proceeded to ask me the question I'm asking you all today, and I had no answer. So, a little help here? :P

Thanks for reading my rant.

Offline Inkidu

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Re: What makes you care about fictional characters?
« Reply #1 on: March 21, 2014, 03:50:22 PM »
Human beings can empathize and sympathize. That's really it. You feel for the character's struggles, or you don't. Characters you don't agree with or can't get behind their reasoning at least are ones you typically don't like.

Of course, that's for more for good, believable characters. You could also create a cipher so that people project on the character. That woks too.

Offline JenTrishTopic starter

Re: What makes you care about fictional characters?
« Reply #2 on: March 21, 2014, 04:21:47 PM »
Human beings can empathize and sympathize. That's really it. You feel for the character's struggles, or you don't. Characters you don't agree with or can't get behind their reasoning at least are ones you typically don't like.
So that means that certain people can relate to certain characters more than others can?

Maybe that's why I felt like how I did after playing The Last of Us.

You could also create a cipher so that people project on the character. That woks too.
Can you elaborate?

Also, if anyone has any examples of games or short stories that apply here feel free to post them! ;)

Offline Caeli

Re: What makes you care about fictional characters?
« Reply #3 on: March 21, 2014, 04:37:16 PM »
Can you elaborate?

I don't know if this is the type of character that Inkidu was referring to, but some authors will deliberately (or not) create a protagonist who many people can see themselves as, i.e., they are the character, and that's why they may also get invested in the story, the other characters, and so on.  I believe these sorts of characters tend to lack personality or any distinguishing characteristics.

Bella of the Twilight series would be a good example of this, in my opinion - she has very few distinguishing personality traits and interests of her own.
« Last Edit: March 21, 2014, 04:38:17 PM by Caeli »

Offline Inkidu

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Re: What makes you care about fictional characters?
« Reply #4 on: March 21, 2014, 05:05:29 PM »
I don't know if this is the type of character that Inkidu was referring to, but some authors will deliberately (or not) create a protagonist who many people can see themselves as, i.e., they are the character, and that's why they may also get invested in the story, the other characters, and so on.  I believe these sorts of characters tend to lack personality or any distinguishing characteristics.

Bella of the Twilight series would be a good example of this, in my opinion - she has very few distinguishing personality traits and interests of her own.
This, I was going to use this exact paragraph.

She's stalking my mind. O...O

Offline JenTrishTopic starter

Re: What makes you care about fictional characters?
« Reply #5 on: March 21, 2014, 05:23:08 PM »
I don't know if this is the type of character that Inkidu was referring to, but some authors will deliberately (or not) create a protagonist who many people can see themselves as, i.e., they are the character, and that's why they may also get invested in the story, the other characters, and so on.  I believe these sorts of characters tend to lack personality or any distinguishing characteristics.

Bella of the Twilight series would be a good example of this, in my opinion - she has very few distinguishing personality traits and interests of her own.
Wouldn't that go against what I asked earlier? (sorry, I asked 3 questions in the opening post >.<)

I mean, if the character lacked personality wouldn't they 'fall flat' so to speak? Wouldn't they seem less 'believable'?

I've never read the Twilight books or watched the movies, unfortunately.

This, I was going to use this exact paragraph.

She's stalking my mind. O...O

Offline Inkidu

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Re: What makes you care about fictional characters?
« Reply #6 on: March 21, 2014, 05:43:47 PM »
Wouldn't that go against what I asked earlier? (sorry, I asked 3 questions in the opening post >.<)

I mean, if the character lacked personality wouldn't they 'fall flat' so to speak? Wouldn't they seem less 'believable'?

I've never read the Twilight books or watched the movies, unfortunately.

Yes, that's why such characters are frowned upon in literature, but they allow people who want to live vicariously through such characters. They project their own personalities onto the character.

Twilight isn't about a Bella Swan falling in conflicting steamy vampire-werewolf love triangles, it's about the person reading the books. I'm assuming adolescent girls are the target demographic.


Offline Caeli

Re: What makes you care about fictional characters?
« Reply #7 on: March 21, 2014, 06:14:08 PM »
Wouldn't that go against what I asked earlier? (sorry, I asked 3 questions in the opening post >.<)

I mean, if the character lacked personality wouldn't they 'fall flat' so to speak? Wouldn't they seem less 'believable'?

I've never read the Twilight books or watched the movies, unfortunately.


+1 to Inkidu's answer - it is not precisely that such characters themselves are believable, but because they are so lacking in distinguishing personality/interests/etc., this actually allows the reader to project themselves into that character, in a way that (using Inkidu's great explanation!) allows them to live vicariously through these characters.

Offline Beguile's Mistress

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Re: What makes you care about fictional characters?
« Reply #8 on: March 21, 2014, 06:22:27 PM »
I've had many reactions to fictional characters.  The strongest feelings are usually triggered by a writer who has some sort of affinity for the character they write and can get into their mind.  The writer knows the character and appreciates them.  The character doesn't have to be likable but they do have to be genuine and true to life.  I don't like phony characters any more than I like phony people.

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Re: What makes you care about fictional characters?
« Reply #9 on: March 21, 2014, 11:02:40 PM »
I've never read the Twilight books or watched the movies, unfortunately.

Many people would drop the 'un'.  ;)

I'm also going to add to BeMi's post that as long as the author makes the character 'real', they are easier for me to connect with.  Two prime examples from my experience:  Alex from 'A Clockwork Orange' - horrible person, and yet at the end of the movie (and the book, which I read later), there's a disconcerting feeling of triumph.  The other would be Michael Moorcock's 'Elric of Melnibone' - murder machine extraordinaire would be a good description, but the way he was written, you got a mixture of pity, fear, and sometimes even attraction for him. 

Offline gaggedLouise

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Re: What makes you care about fictional characters?
« Reply #10 on: March 22, 2014, 10:57:25 AM »
The voice and the way a character talks or thinks are very important to me. Certainly if much of the story is told from within the mind of a lead character, or more than one (as is almost bound to happen in an RP) - the flow and choice of words, memories, ways of thinking becoming part of what the person is about, where he/she comes from and how their world is perceived. The voice, down into the rhythm and the mannerisms of speech, becomes like the skin of the character, and a way for the writer to introduce cues and images that bring you closer to the story.

I remember reading Man Crazy by Joyce Carol Oates - she's outstanding at finding the voice - and being swept away by the conviction of the voice of the girl who carries the story and tells it in first person. The book is a flow of incidents, memories and scenes by a teenage girl on the move, half junkie, on the run through increasingly dangerous and delinquent circumstances - at one point she ends up with a semi-fascist biker gang commune. She sounds spot on like the kind of stubby, vulnerable, gritty kid you'd think of for that kind of story, but never like a cliché. Ms Oates doesn't have any kids, she was sixty when she wrote the novel and her life seems to have been poles apart from those kinds of circunstances, even though she has certainly seen those kinds of people and locations. Amazing.

Offline alextaylor

Re: What makes you care about fictional characters?
« Reply #11 on: March 25, 2014, 08:33:15 AM »
The story itself should be narrated in such a way that people empathize with the character. Not sympathize. Sympathize is looking on from a 3rd degree, empathize is feeling the way the character does.

If you want to make someone sad about his wife's death, the story itself should highlight the strong relationship with his wife. I think Pixar's Up is the perfect example of creating empathy in just 5 minutes.

You have to tell the audience why they're feeling something. IMO, building empathy takes up most of any good story. It takes a lot of words and details to build. If you just want the plot, read the synopsis.

Offline Inkidu

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Re: What makes you care about fictional characters?
« Reply #12 on: March 27, 2014, 09:08:00 AM »
The story itself should be narrated in such a way that people empathize with the character. Not sympathize. Sympathize is looking on from a 3rd degree, empathize is feeling the way the character does.

If you want to make someone sad about his wife's death, the story itself should highlight the strong relationship with his wife. I think Pixar's Up is the perfect example of creating empathy in just 5 minutes.

You have to tell the audience why they're feeling something. IMO, building empathy takes up most of any good story. It takes a lot of words and details to build. If you just want the plot, read the synopsis.
There's a fundamental flaw in your point. I can't empathize with someone who's lost his or her significant other. I can't do because I've never lost a significant other. I can sympathize with someone who has, because I get a shade of the emotional impact.

Empathy is sharing in a mutual pain. Sympathy is sharing is someone's pain though you've never endured it yourself.

Offline Skynet

Re: What makes you care about fictional characters?
« Reply #13 on: April 22, 2014, 08:51:45 PM »
Human beings can empathize and sympathize. That's really it. You feel for the character's struggles, or you don't. Characters you don't agree with or can't get behind their reasoning at least are ones you typically don't like.

Of course, that's for more for good, believable characters. You could also create a cipher so that people project on the character. That woks too.

This is the same for me, too.  Especially for the protagonist, but if a story has at least a few sympathetic recurring characters then I can enjoy it.

I find that characters I just don't care for can be even worse than characters you hate.

Offline Monkeys Razor

Re: What makes you care about fictional characters?
« Reply #14 on: July 01, 2014, 10:00:16 PM »
For me I either relate to their personality or relate to what they are going through or how they feel about it/deal with it. Or a combination of all those things combined.


Offline roulette

Re: What makes you care about fictional characters?
« Reply #15 on: July 02, 2014, 01:59:11 AM »
I know the cipher character has been discussed long ago already, but I wanted to mention something about it. It may be frowned upon, but it's a bit obnoxious to frown upon anything. Twilight does make a decent example, but my personal favorite is The Vampire Diaries (show, not the books).

Elena Gilbert, to me, is a cipher. As the main character she annoys me to bits, because she's so generic. She's good. She cares about her friends and her family. But I don't watch the show for her. I watch it for all of the characters around her. I watch it for her love interests, particularly. How is it that I can care so deeply for a relationship or romance when I could care less about one of the characters?

Well, I allow myself to be courted instead.

It's very bland when it comes to that one character, but that doesn't mean the storyteller can't weave a truly exciting world and colorful cast around that one point of entry. I want to be friends with her friends, I want to love her lovers. And that's why I love the show, even if I'm not a fan of the main character.

Offline Inkidu

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Re: What makes you care about fictional characters?
« Reply #16 on: July 02, 2014, 10:08:16 AM »
I know the cipher character has been discussed long ago already, but I wanted to mention something about it. It may be frowned upon, but it's a bit obnoxious to frown upon anything. Twilight does make a decent example, but my personal favorite is The Vampire Diaries (show, not the books).

Elena Gilbert, to me, is a cipher. As the main character she annoys me to bits, because she's so generic. She's good. She cares about her friends and her family. But I don't watch the show for her. I watch it for all of the characters around her. I watch it for her love interests, particularly. How is it that I can care so deeply for a relationship or romance when I could care less about one of the characters?

Well, I allow myself to be courted instead.

It's very bland when it comes to that one character, but that doesn't mean the storyteller can't weave a truly exciting world and colorful cast around that one point of entry. I want to be friends with her friends, I want to love her lovers. And that's why I love the show, even if I'm not a fan of the main character.
Fair point, but this was about caring about characters, and you tend not to care about a character's struggles if you don't like them.

Offline roulette

Re: What makes you care about fictional characters?
« Reply #17 on: July 02, 2014, 12:47:26 PM »
But yet you still care very potently for the characters around them. It's only one character who escapes my empathy. Otherwise I have become a puddle watching the show.

Offline Inkidu

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Re: What makes you care about fictional characters?
« Reply #18 on: July 02, 2014, 12:54:20 PM »
But yet you still care very potently for the characters around them. It's only one character who escapes my empathy. Otherwise I have become a puddle watching the show.
Not arguing with you there.

Offline roulette

Re: What makes you care about fictional characters?
« Reply #19 on: July 02, 2014, 01:12:52 PM »
Besides that, I think it's already been hit on the head. So long as a character is well-written (which has a lot to do with dialogue and detail and generally having them come of as "emotionally true"), whether we care for them or not has a lot to do with the audience rather than the character. I don't enjoy characters who are too good and moral, because I don't particularly enjoy it when actual people are that way, with a no tolerance policy for gray. But they're very popular.

Jen told us that she didn't personally care about the characters of TLoU, but that set her apart from many of her friends. That's okay. It doesn't mean she's heartless, and it doesn't mean the characters were poorly handled. It just means there's something a little bit different between the characters she relates to.

Offline Inkidu

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Re: What makes you care about fictional characters?
« Reply #20 on: July 02, 2014, 01:31:26 PM »
I'm not so upset with morally pure with no gray, as I am upset by the pure moral character always coming out smelling of roses for being morally inflexible.

In the real world you suffer for truly holding the moral high ground. :)

Offline HannibalBarca

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Re: What makes you care about fictional characters?
« Reply #21 on: July 04, 2014, 02:05:05 AM »
If I can use an oft-accessed plot, Sam in The Lord of the Rings seems like a supporting character through most of the novel, but that exposition builds his character--the humble, dutiful friend/servant.  It isn't until the final third of the trilogy, when Sam is not only the physical support for Frodo, but the mental and emotional support, that we see his self-sacrifice and love for not only his friend, but through him the world at large.  He willingly sacrifices his future (his life really) in order to help his 'Master' finish his goal...he never sees himself as a hero.  His isn't the false humility, but the actual kind...there isn't a bit of selfishness in him.  Anyone who has loved someone and cared for them through illness and infirmity, suffered silently in order to make things easier on someone else, or given up their own precious time in order to give someone else a break or respite from suffering, can relate to the character...empathize with him, really.

It is no surprise that most main characters in fantasy and science fiction are 'everyman/everywoman' characters.  Can you really relate to Gandalf, or Sam?  Dumbledore, or Harry Potter?  Han Solo, or Luke?  It is the everyday person we relate to the most, because we are everyday people.  None of us are Aragorn, or Morpheus, or the Tin Man.  We're Dorothy.  We identify with the weakest individual in fiction because regular people are the weakest in most fiction genres.  It makes us enjoy it that much more when we see the average Joe character struggle, strive, fail...then succeed.
« Last Edit: December 28, 2014, 04:53:49 AM by HannibalBarca »

Offline Elysian Radiance

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Re: What makes you care about fictional characters?
« Reply #22 on: September 01, 2014, 04:07:13 AM »
Take Arya Stark from Game of Thrones. There are a lot of characters in that series and a lot of differing opinions on them, but I haven't once met someone who didn't like Arya (inb4 someone pipes up that they don't).

Arya is a fighter and survivor. She wins a lot of sympathy from the readers for all the tragedy and struggles that she goes through (won't say any thing in detail because spoilers, sweety). The readers feel for her and the issues that she faces and we root for her to win.


In regards to the post above me, I think Sam was really the hero in LotR. He was a fantastic character; I adored him.

Offline Marchoisas

Re: What makes you care about fictional characters?
« Reply #23 on: September 21, 2014, 08:41:31 PM »
Vhat makes me care about fictitional characters? They have to be real. In a sense that their motives, actions, behaviors and attitudes have to be grounded in reality. I have to be able to identify with a character's ideals, struggles and motivations on a personal level. Secondly - they have to also be realistic. For that reason I dislike most superheroes with superpowers, even though some of them meet the first criteria. And thirdly... they have to be human. Not perfect, not infallible, not idealized, not clear-cut black/white in personality. People are comprised of many shades of grey, and all of us have some good and some not-so-good traits.

A great example of a character that meets all three points wuld be the Punisher. Aside from me being a total sucker for anti-heroes like that, his struggle is so compeling, his battle so personal, his motivation borne out of very understandable frustration at the lack of true justice in this shitty world. Hes not realy a "good guy" nor a "bad guy" - he is both, and neither, and he does vhat he has to do, guided by his own moral compass.

Also agree about Sam from LOTR. He is awesome!

Offline BitterSweet

Re: What makes you care about fictional characters?
« Reply #24 on: September 21, 2014, 09:39:57 PM »
Of course, with all of the above comes a caveat: 'real' and sympathetic are socially and culturally based. 

Someone for whom the samurai system is a part of their culture and their upbringing will have a very different idea about 'morally grey' as a desireable or empathic trait than we will.  Our culture has a tendency to idolize grey/anti-hero characters. 

And such things will also vary among individuals.  I empathize and sympathize with what people often call white or morally upright heroes.  Not because I think black and white morality is good, or desirable but because, for me a: it's a mistake to assume that idealized morality is inflexible (I believe that inflexibility is itself immoral, but that you also need to be able to determine when to flex and when ... not) and b: because the struggle to be a genuine white hat in a world that is not black and white is very compelling for me.