Consider the life of your favorite fictional character, or any fictional character you know well, and answer this question: what would you expect them to do on any given day? Would they go to a restaurant where they work as a chef; would they don a balaclava and rob a bank; would they travel across the galaxy in their starship; would they hold court with powerful people and plot invasions of their enemies’ lands?
Memorable fictional characters need activities and lives that depict their distinct identity because it explains what the reader can and can’t expect from them, sets the character up for bearing relatable and interesting desires, and possibly even gives them a reason to change.
For example, Harry Potter (when he’s at Hogwarts) is a popular Gryffindor quidditch player (if you don’t know what quidditch is, I have only one word for you: muggle) who spends his free time battling against dark wizards and dark wizardry in general. The reader knows exactly who Harry is because nearly his whole life revolves around those two activities, and there are certain things we’d absolutely never expect him to do, like wear the green and silver of Slytherin, or condone or even dabble in dark magic in any way. These expectations are significant because, throughout the course of each Harry Potter book, they elucidate a deeper insight about Harry’s character: his worldview and motivation. Harry would never wear the silver and green of Slytherin or condone dark magic because of his implacable stance on good versus evil, which compels him to be the sneaky, brave, and single-minded hero he is.
What, then, can we learn from Harry Potter and other fictional characters with distinct identities? That people who know who they are can be reliably depended upon to live and act certain ways, and do so deliberately and with end goals in mind. This is, at least in terms of narrative structure, actually what makes a hero, a hero (their desires, actions, and growth, not just remarkable feats).
When a hero does something we wouldn’t expect of them, the reader experiences dissonance, which can sometimes be good for a story. But what’s needed the vast majority of the time is alignment between who we know the hero to be, and their actions. Do you ever wonder if there are parts of your life that don’t align with who you believe you are? The lives of fictional heroes are so inspiring because they show us how to be brave enough to live authentically, and help bring attention to the parts of our own lives that might not belong given our unique sets of desires, goals, and beliefs.
So follow Harry Potter’s example, and that of countless other great fictional characters, and consider what belongs in your life and what doesn’t; furthermore, add up all the small successes of being yourself that happen everyday, and celebrate them and see how you can build on them. I bet you’ll get a big boost from doing so, and you might even be challenged to do some hard things.
Who are some of your favorite fictional characters, and what have you learned from them? I want to hear your thoughts!