Character Infatuation & Over-Identification - Do You Have These Problems?

These two issues lead to a myriad of problems, both in fiction and real life. On the fiction end, it leads to characters being spoiled and shown too much favor, characters ending up completely out of character, and protagonist-centered morality. On the real life end, it leads to authors and fans taking things way too seriously or personally, which often results in needlessly hurt feelings and a lot of drama.

Infatuation is when when someone is so overcome with positive emotions and/or fascination toward something that it becomes difficult, if not impossible to view that thing in an objective and balanced light. It can be romantic or sexual in nature, but it need not always be - there's are other forms of infatuation. Infatuation can lead someone to perceive a character as the ultimate badass, the most sympathetic victim, the most deserving applicant, the most precious child, etc. Commonly, those who are infatuated in some way perceive those who disagree with their opinions as being stupid, selfish, jealous, or mean-spirited.

Over-identification is when one identifies with a character so much, things that are said or done to the character are perceived as being said or done to oneself. Over-identification also happens when one begins to project personal traits onto the character that are unsubstantiated or even contradicted by canon. In its worst form, the over-identifying party will come to believe that the projected traits are absolute canon and that anyone who says otherwise is wrong or mean.

The more questions you answer "yes" to, the more likely you have one of these issues. If you think you do (or even just might), there'll be tips to help you pull yourself into a more balanced frame of mind below.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you get strong warm and fuzzy feelings when you start talking or thinking about this character?
  • Do you otherwise get strongly emotional when you start thinking or talking about this character?
  • When you talk about this character, do you often find yourself gushing about this character or going in depth into details that no one explicitly asked for?
  • If people seem disinterested in this character, do you keep on talking about the character in the hopes that they'll become interested?
  • Do you feel instincts that could be described as parental, sibling-like, or otherwise protective toward this character?
  • Do you assign or project these feelings onto other characters in your story, whether or not it really makes sense for these characters to have them?
  • Do you assume that audiences will or ought to share your feelings about this character?
  • Do you feel that people who disagree with your feelings and views just don't understand or "get" this character, or have hateful motivations?
  • Do you feel that any criticism levied against this character is unfair or mean, or that people should just keep it to themselves?
  • If anyone says anything negative about this character, do you feel as you would if this person insulted a friend or relative, or insulted you?
  • If anyone says anything negative about this character, do you assume that jealousy or spite must have been a motivating factor?
  • Does the idea of your character being in an embarrassing or ridiculous situation make you uncomfortable? Does it just seem wrong or impossible that such a thing would ever happen?
  • Do you strongly believe that this character should be granted lenience or forgiveness for mistakes or wrongdoings, even when it really is this character's fault?
  • Do you believe that those who have harmed or slighted this character deserve punishment, even though A: it wasn't actually more severe or malicious than anything this character ever did, or B: wasn't really their faults?
  • Do you expect people to just take you at your word when you (or have another character) say that this character has certain positive traits - EG, is kind, intelligent, wise, etc?
  • In any story or stories that you write, do other characters act as if they know they exist to support this character, and are satisfied with this? (If you're not sure, put yourself in their shoes and imagine that they are the protagonists for awhile. Would they choose different actions and have different opinions if you wrote them as protagonists? If so, then yes.)
  • In your view, are the only characters who don't like this character ignorant, unfair, or mean?
  • If you didn't create this character, do you feel that this character would share your opinions and feelings on certain things (especially on ones that you feel strongly about), despite never having expressed such in canon?
  • If you did create this character, does this character share your opinions and feelings on things despite not coming from a time, place, or lifestyle that would have been very likely to cultivate them?
  • Do you feel that this character would be especially sympathetic or understanding toward your own problems and struggles?
  • If you didn't create the character, do you still feel that you understand this character's problems and struggles better than many others, possibly even better than the character's own creator/s or writer/s?
  • Do you often daydream about spending time with or helping this character, or about being this character?

If you've answered "yes" to a number of these questions:

You might have at least some degree of infatuation or over-identification, and might have a rosier picture of the character than is reasonable. Here's some things you can do to balance yourself out:

Think about what this character has in common with people you don't like. Does the character seem quite so shiny and great now? Or does this character perhaps seem a touch less perfect and flawless now that you think about it like this?

Imagine if this character or another character treated your family, your friends, or other characters you like in ways that you think this character is justified in treating characters you don't like. Does it still seem justifiable and understandable? Or does it maybe seem at least a little petty and mean now?

Acknowledge where you and this character would have some pretty significant differences. Maybe this character is quite a bit older than you. Maybe this character would have been socialized very differently. Maybe this character would have grown up in a culture that would have fostered a very different set of values from the one you grew up in. Stop and consider how the differences between you and this character would have produced someone who has a few differences from you.

Consider the personality, knowledge, and skills this character would need to have to get by. It's hard to be an effective public speaker or persuader if you're a shrinking violet. Someone who gets squeamish at blood or violence probably never would have become a soldier or warrior (or stayed one for very long). As you consider these things, you're probably going to find some differences between yourself and this character. Acknowledge and accept them.

Spend some time thinking about the struggles and positive qualities of other characters in the work, or what you might have in common with them. Consider them and what they do, and what they've probably seen and done throughout their lives. Think about the things they've probably had to overcome or endure. Think about what you have in common (or might have in common) with them.

Imagine your character in some embarrassing and ridiculous situations. Do this until you get fairly comfortable with the idea of your character being silly or humiliated sometimes.

Go through the main material again, but put yourself into other characters' shoes and consider things from their perspectives. Do you see the character you were enamored with in quite the same way? Or do you see some other possibilities? (If you have trouble doing this, apply the tips on Simple Tips To Put Yourself In The Shoes Of Characters Who Aren't You to this exercise - mostly the second and third items, and mainly the first if possible.)

Get into the shoes of those who don't like the character that well with these exercises. Nothing helps you put characters into perspective like viewing them through someone else's eyes.

Check out Telling Story Canon From Personal Bias, Erroneous Memories, & Fanwank. This page will help you avoid tricking yourself into believing things about a character that might not necessarily be true.

Run a check for Protagonist-Centered Morality. Even if this character isn't technically the protagonist in anything yet.

Run your character's harmful or aggressive actions through the fault flowchart and be honest. And remember, "so-and-so was a jerk to this character" does not count as an altered state of consciousness.

Run other characters' not-so-great actions through the fault flowchart. Is it possible that the "bad" things they did would have practically required them to be mind readers to know not to do? Is it possible that these characters aren't actually bad, but are really more just inconveniencing to the character you like?

You might also like:

Tips To Keep Your Characters In Perspective & Make The Right Impressions With Them
Basic Tips To Improve Your OCs & Fan Characters
Tips For Writing Fanfiction With An OC Protagonist
Dealing With Criticism & Negative Reviews

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