“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?