Meta Monday: “Core Identities”

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Misha Collins at NJCon 2016. (I took the pic. It’s not stolen!)

“I would like . . . to have the character stick with some of its—some of his core identities. Like the fact that Castiel is primarily and consistently motivated by doing the right thing, even if that means self-sacrifice or doing something that, you know, is wrong in the moment . . . He’s motivated by doing the right thing and being just. And, I guess, as the character morphs, I hope that he retains that quality and that that core element of him doesn’t somehow get lost.”

-Misha Collins at NJCon 2016 (See the video on YouTube here; the question starts around 24:51) 

Supernatural fans know that the character Misha Collins plays, Castiel, has gone through some pretty radical changes throughout his time on the show. When a fan at NJCon this year asked Misha what sort of changes he’d like to see going forward, Misha answered with the quote above. No matter how much Cas changes, Misha wants him to stay committed to doing the right thing—to stay motivated by that.

I think I get that. No matter what happens on the show, if Cas retains that commitment, he’ll always be recognizably Cas.

And that got me thinking about my own characters—or at least my main characters. Aric, for example, from Crevlock Tower. What are his core identities? He grows throughout the story, but what has to stay the same in order to keep him recognizable?

He loves his family, even when he struggles with them. He’s loyal to his brother. He respects hierarchies. He swears a lot. All these are true, but if something radical enough happens, I think these things could change without fundamentally altering Aric.

Well, maybe not his love of family. That might be one of his core identities. But there’s another core element to him.

Aric has a need—sometimes healthy, sometimes not—to adopt strays and take care of them. When his father ordered the bodies of deserters from the legion to be left exposed, he couldn’t go along with it. Even if they were dead, even if he didn’t know them, these people needed his care. They had no family at hand to demand their burial, to demand that their bodies be treated with respect. So Aric stepped up.

And then there’s Shocha—this scrawny, foreign sorcerer. Aric’s people imprisoned him and cut out his tongue. At first, even Aric thought it would be best just to strangle this ‘demon-spawn.’ But he couldn’t bring himself to do it. So he took Shocha under his wing instead, determined to look after him.

That need to take care of strays—to look after people who have no one else—is a core element I want Aric to retain.

What about characters you’ve created? What are their core identities? If you’re not a writer—or if you write primarily fan fiction—what’s the core identity of a fictional character you love? What’s so important to the character that, if something changed it, the character would seem irreconcilably different?

One last question: have you ever tried to change a core identity of a character? How did it work out?

About Jenn Moss

Author * Web Serialist * Virtual Addict
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8 Responses to Meta Monday: “Core Identities”

  1. inkbiotic says:

    Thought provoking ideas here, beautifully explored. I’m going to be writing a book soon that explores the pre-brain injury past of one of my characters (from a book I wrote recently) and he will be different. However I need to remember exactly what you’ve talked about here – even when a person changes there should be something that connects, a thread that carries through.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jenn Moss says:

      Thanks, I’m glad this helped. Do you know what part–what thread–of that character will remain, or do you think you’ll discover it as you write?

      Liked by 1 person

      • inkbiotic says:

        It did! At the moment I’m thinking curiosity and a love of learning will be part of it. I find that the real feel of a character doesn’t come until I’ve been writing them a while, so most of it will come once I start. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Joan Enoch says:

    Hi Jenn. I’m interested in the idea of core identities, also, and seriously wonder if people have them – though to think that seems depressing. The tutor of a ‘women’s writing’ module I did once (as part of a degree) used to think that we all live roles that society expects from us. I think this is so true – I see it over and over again. But if we all just live roles, where are we?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Joan Enoch says:

    I don’t think this idea of society requiring us to live roles applies only to women, of course. It is required of men, also – sometimes in how a man is expected to act in any case, and sometimes in a direct response to how women are supposed to be.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jenn Moss says:

      I think the question of societal roles is technically separate from the issue of core identities–though they might overlap and entwine. And one might masquerade as the other.

      For example, traditionally our society doesn’t ascribe the caretaker calling as a necessary one for guys. Yet there are plenty who have it–guys like the character Aric I described above, who go out of their way to adopt strays, to take care of anyone who stumbles on their path.

      Now, they might be healthy or unhealthy caretakers, depending on whether they just need to be needed or whether they have a genuine interest in helping others on the path of independence and authenticity. (I expect most hard-core caretaker types, regardless of gender, are on a spectrum between the two.) So their personal journey might be to move away from the controlling, needy type of caretaking and toward the type where they’re already whole themselves, so can offer the more
      genuine kind.

      If I wrote a story centering on a woman caretaker, I think the question about societal roles would come up. I would need to know, as an author, if that was her true, authentic calling, or if she’s just acting a part because it’s expected. If the former, her journey would be the same as the guy’s above. If the latter, her journey would be to discover what her true calling is. (Same for a guy who was only playing the part society handed him.)

      As to whether real humans (as opposed to characters) have core identities–I believe we have true, authentic callings. I think, yeah, Vishnu gives each of us a specific ideal role to fulfill in His grand dream. But your mileage may vary on that. 😉

      Like

  4. Joan Enoch says:

    So – do you think that it is still women, more so than men who are required to play roles in the world?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jenn Moss says:

      That’s far too wide a question for me, honestly. I just used the caretaker role as an example, because I do think in our society (and in most I write about, even if they’re fanasy-based), it’s still more customary to assign that role to women.

      Liked by 1 person

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