How Characters Help Us Become Our Own Protagonists
Start writing a post

How Characters Help Us Become Our Own Protagonists

The characters we love influence us more than we know.

How Characters Help Us Become Our Own Protagonists
Oxford Dictionaries Blog

On Facebook recently, I noticed a chain post that asks the participants to name the film, television or book characters that most reflect their personality.

It got me wondering how much our own character, the avatar we guide through this game called life is affected and altered by the characters we admire on the screen and page.

These characters can't be described as ontologically real people that can be engaged in passionate conversation on the current presidential race, nor can they tenderly grasp your hand as you stroll down the gas-lit streets of foggy Londontown. That is what makes it so vastly interesting that we are still massively influenced and inspired by them, whether or not we realize it, on a regular basis. Why do we allow fictional beings the right to rule our hearts and minds with so little effort?

Well, it all starts with our perspective of what's real and what isn't.

Psychologically, we are programmed to become attached to characters in our favorite form of fiction (try saying that ten times fast!) through our brain's vast capability for reading emotion and stress through a character or person's facial expressions and tone of voice.

Psychologist Tamar Gendler proposes there is a form of pseudo-belief called "alief"--a refreshing word for what happens in our brain when we suspend disbelief just enough to believe that Robert Downey, Jr. is maybe (just maybe) not playing himself all the time, but is actually transforming into similar, but different characters. It takes a certain desire on our part to immerse ourselves into another time and place, and "alief" is what helps us fulfill that desire.

Empathy and projection are two of the greater culprits in fastening our attention and imagination onto characters of all types. The latter encompasses It's part of the reason there is such an enormous interest and enjoyment of "cosplay," the act of dressing up as a beloved character for an event for similarly minded people.

But, what psychologists have been discovering, as Abby Norman covers so well in her article on the subject, is that more than anything, we don't want to be these characters that inspire us, we simply want to be their friends.

It makes sense if you think about it. Like any realistic, quality friendship, you've been with your characters through thick and thin, seen more of their emotional range than you might of most acquaintances and rooted for them against all odds.

When I am in emotional crises or otherwise unsure of where to turn my rudder, I find myself often looking to stories I love and respect for advice. I don't mean that I go find a bottle of rum like Captain Jack, or grab a stick and start pointing it at things, shouting in Latin phrases. It's quite simply more just for comfort and reference; a feeling that echoes in my heart and mind with the resonance of familiarity.

Movies, television and literature have the power of taking us through the 'wardrobe', so to speak, to places we've never been and on adventures with strangers that become our allies. I've always harbored a special love for the genres of fantasy and science fiction, respectively, because they take everyday tasks and place them in extraordinary circumstances.

By following along the protagonist's journey, the reader or watcher is able to distance themselves just enough to learn without risk of injury (unless it is an injury of the heart at the death of a beloved character). Stories like the "Chronicles of Narnia" and "Harry Potter" begin in the reality that we are familiar with, then add the heightened reality of the worlds they discover.

Learning life lessons alongside them and in diverse and dangerous situations makes applying that knowledge to our everyday that much easier. Similarly, if you're having a rough day, it is a comfort to know that you can give in to escapism and go hang out with some friends that won't judge you for a little while.

Reading and watching things that inspire and teach us is so much more powerful than many people believe. So choose your material carefully because the characters you meet, just might stay with you for a lifetime.

Report this Content
This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
the beatles
Wikipedia Commons

For as long as I can remember, I have been listening to The Beatles. Every year, my mom would appropriately blast “Birthday” on anyone’s birthday. I knew all of the words to “Back In The U.S.S.R” by the time I was 5 (Even though I had no idea what or where the U.S.S.R was). I grew up with John, Paul, George, and Ringo instead Justin, JC, Joey, Chris and Lance (I had to google N*SYNC to remember their names). The highlight of my short life was Paul McCartney in concert twice. I’m not someone to “fangirl” but those days I fangirled hard. The music of The Beatles has gotten me through everything. Their songs have brought me more joy, peace, and comfort. I can listen to them in any situation and find what I need. Here are the best lyrics from The Beatles for every and any occasion.

Keep Reading...Show less
Being Invisible The Best Super Power

The best superpower ever? Being invisible of course. Imagine just being able to go from seen to unseen on a dime. Who wouldn't want to have the opportunity to be invisible? Superman and Batman have nothing on being invisible with their superhero abilities. Here are some things that you could do while being invisible, because being invisible can benefit your social life too.

Keep Reading...Show less

19 Lessons I'll Never Forget from Growing Up In a Small Town

There have been many lessons learned.

houses under green sky
Photo by Alev Takil on Unsplash

Small towns certainly have their pros and cons. Many people who grow up in small towns find themselves counting the days until they get to escape their roots and plant new ones in bigger, "better" places. And that's fine. I'd be lying if I said I hadn't thought those same thoughts before too. We all have, but they say it's important to remember where you came from. When I think about where I come from, I can't help having an overwhelming feeling of gratitude for my roots. Being from a small town has taught me so many important lessons that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

Keep Reading...Show less
​a woman sitting at a table having a coffee

I can't say "thank you" enough to express how grateful I am for you coming into my life. You have made such a huge impact on my life. I would not be the person I am today without you and I know that you will keep inspiring me to become an even better version of myself.

Keep Reading...Show less
Student Life

Waitlisted for a College Class? Here's What to Do!

Dealing with the inevitable realities of college life.

college students waiting in a long line in the hallway

Course registration at college can be a big hassle and is almost never talked about. Classes you want to take fill up before you get a chance to register. You might change your mind about a class you want to take and must struggle to find another class to fit in the same time period. You also have to make sure no classes clash by time. Like I said, it's a big hassle.

This semester, I was waitlisted for two classes. Most people in this situation, especially first years, freak out because they don't know what to do. Here is what you should do when this happens.

Keep Reading...Show less

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Facebook Comments