Autumn-berries in sunlight

Thinking about character types

So, after making the previous One Piece post, I started thinking about character types I go for. Although the characters I like have an amusing tendency to come out of nowhere and sneak up on me, I do definitely have types, and most (though not all!) of my favorites tend to end up falling into one or more of these categories.

This started out as an earnest attempt to make a thoughtful, well-organized post .... but I ended up with a semi-incoherent, fannish nattering ramble instead. Oops. XD (Also insert obligatory disclaimer about how this is just what I like, not meant to imply anything at all about what other people ought to like ....)

So yeah, stuff what I like:

• Smart, snarky, competent people, often with a science/engineering/working-with-their-hands tendency

Definitely no shock to people who've been following me through fandoms for awhile. These are the Rodney McKays and Tony Starks. Spock and McCoy from Star Trek: TOS are probably the ur-example, the first time that I remember latching onto this type of character. MacGyver was another formative one from my teens. There's also Bulma from Dragonball Z, and Giles on Buffy, although he's obviously not an engineer type, but the real formula is smart + sarcastic + hyper-competent in their areas of expertise -- it's just that it tends to be engineer or science-type characters that really hit this button of mine.

But there's another character type that is sort of an inverse of this one that I'm about equally likely to latch onto ...

• The brawny, quiet, loyal partner/protector of the small, mouthy one; loyal, competent protector-followers

It's the icing on the fannish-catnip cake if the protector-character is also smart and sarcastic, although it's not absolutely necessary. But what doesn't tend to trip this button is the harried, annoyed genius-wrangler type character -- I think one of the key features of what makes this kind of character tap-dance all over my happy buttons is that they generally don't interfere with their protectee/charge; they just stand back and let them do their thing, possibly snarking at them from the sidelines now and then, and only interfere if they're genuinely in trouble.

Bigwig from Watership Down is the ur-example here. This is the button that Peter Burke on White Collar pushes down (though he's not a perfect example because he does interfere with Neal quite a bit; he also does a fair amount of just standing back and admiring Neal doing his thing, though), and Bucky from the MCU is kind of this, or at least this is one of the major buttons that he hits for me, even if he doesn't hit it exactly (although he hits other buttons as well, as noted below). Iceburg from One Piece is another one, not to mention Zoro, my original favorite character in the series. Also Zoe in Firefly. In SL Huang's Zero Sum Game, I'm pretty sure Rio and Arthur both hit this type for me.

Both of these character types are gender-independent for me, as far as I can tell -- it's just that characters who flesh out these "types" in a way that hits my happy buttons are usually (but not always) male. Even when female characters technically fit the trope, it's hard for writers to get away from running them through a gender filter that turns them into something that doesn't quite work so well for me (like how, for example, female partner-assistants tend to come out more on the micromanaging end of things than as "sit back and let nature take its course" types.) I'd love, love, love more snarky-competent female geniuses and tough, quiet female protector-followers. (Although Riza from Fullmetal Alchemist ought to be the latter one, and she basically is, I think she hits my id in a different way -- see below.)

So those ones don't really have a gender component for me. There are a couple of ones that do, though. I have an enormous narrative kink for older male mentor/younger female protege (strictly platonic - see Buffy-Giles, or Manji-Rin in Blade of the Immortal, or the hitman + little girl in The Professional), and for male-boss/Girl Friday relationships (platonic not required - see Roy Mustang/Riza Hawkeye, or Tony/Pepper, or for one that is platonic, Smoker and Tashigi in One Piece).

There's obviously quite a bit of overlap with the other, above-discussed character types, depending on the exact nature of the characters and their relationships. Well, obviously all of this is very slippery and most characters are very much their own thing, and don't fit the tropes exactly, or fit a bunch of different ones in different ways. There are also characters who don't seem to fit the trope very well, but the thing that makes me latch onto them is the somewhat limited area in which they do fit the trope -- I think that's the case with Peter, for example, because he doesn't fit the quiet-loyal-protector type in his relationship with Neal all that well, but I happen to know (because it's the inside of my head, after all) that that's one of the big things that made me fall for him so hard as a character.

And then there are the character relationship tropes that I guess everyone who reads my fanfic knows about. I like best friends, and siblings, and in particular the "bicker all the time but would actually do anything for each other" type relationships make me fall over into helpless adoration. There's also the one I call "amiable enemies" - not a character being seduced to the other character's side (although I like that too), but two characters who like each other and enjoy each other's company despite being on opposite sides, with no particular inclination to change it. Crowley & Aziraphale, for example, or Peter & Neal (and maybe Peter & Mozzie even more so).

I also like longtime married couples who are entirely comfortable and at ease with each other, and I like couples who have separate lives and whose paths cross only occasionally (this is a rare one because of the way love & romance is usually done in fiction, but Duncan and Amanda from Highlander is a really good example). When it comes strictly to id-satisfying tropes, I seem to like contentious, difficult friendships but placid, deeply-confident-in-each-other romances ... though I like the latter in friendships too, depending on how it plays out.

And one that I just figured out recently, by way of Bucky, are characters who start out as human weapons, or are otherwise extremely limited in what they're supposed to be capable of, and turn out to be, well, people. Clones, cyborgs, doppelgangers, lab-created persons of all types --it was only after getting into MCU fandom that I started looking back over my past character loves and realizing that I actually go for this kind of character quite a lot (Vash in Trigun, Mark in the Vorkosigan novels, Kon in Bleach*, not to mention a whole bunch of other characters who frustrated the hell of me because I really wanted them to become this and then they turned out not to be .... I just never really noticed it before).

*One of several things that made me stop reading Bleach was realizing that Kon, who I adored, was never going to be treated as more than a joke by the narrative. That and Rukia's character assassination -- because she was absolutely pushing my "brawny, loyal protector" button for awhile. Oh, Bleach; I wanted so badly for it to be something different than what it was.

But there are also some favorite characters who don't fit ANY of these in particular -- Zuko in A:tLA, for example, really isn't any of these (except maybe that last one, just a little bit), but made me fall headlong anyway. So there's also that.


.... You know what's really interesting to me, after writing up all of this, is how rarely I actually end up writing these character types and relationships into my original fiction. Which is one reason why I wanted to put all of this down, actually, to stroke my creative brain a little bit.

ETA: As per a comment exchange with Alessandriana, I decided that I really should add "character who seems rather flat/stereotypical/one-note-jokey at first, but turns out to be SECRETLY AWESOME" as another of my id-kink types. Sometimes the exact nature of their SECRET AWESOME might push them into one of the other categories (see: Rodney), but I think some of the characters who don't fit any of my other categories -- like Rory, Mickey, and Donna on Doctor Who, or Zuko in A:tLA -- might be explained in this way.

This entry is also posted at http://sholio.dreamwidth.org/978363.html with comment count unavailable comments.
It was very interesting to read!
Come to think of it, I don't think I ever fell for a single character. It always friendships that do it to me:) I have two favorite characters in all of my fandoms and I can never choose just one, because it's the friendship between them that I latch on :)
Yeah, it's usually character relationships for me too, or characters in relation to one another. I do have favorite characters, but it's relatively rare for me to fall for just one character in isolation -- it's usually the relationships between them that really draws me in.
For me it's more that I fall for a specific character as they relate to others. For example I came to like Peter because he is protective not just of Neal but of everyone in his circle of trust. In a similar way, Duncan is a certain kind of person who tends to react to, say, his friends being in danger in a specific way that hits buttons for me. I can't say that I specifically like him because of how he interacts with Joe, or with Amanda separately. Rather it's the "across the board" treatment of people that is very appealing to me.

Maybe it's the same thing...I don't know! *g*
This makes perfect sense for me! :) I usually have favorite characters, but I rarely fan on a character in isolation, and I rarely fall for anyone hard unless I also really like the characters they play off of.
Oh wow, wish I could analyse my own fannishness as well! I do know some of my tropes - like the person who is afraid but still does something dangerous. Panicking whilst doing something brave is soooo one of my fannish hits! I also like the outsider who finds a home (Rodney, Neal to some extent). Or the loyal sidekick (Blair from The Sentinel), though I think there needs to be some of that fear but brave thing going on as well, as not all sidekicks do it for me.

But then where does Howlin' Mad Murdock fall into this? Or Deeks from NCIS:LA? Or Hetty for that matter? Clearly, I have other tropes that I have yet to clarify!

I have noticed that my truly fannish connections (where I end up writing fic, making icons, being part of the fannish community) are male characters, whereas my not-so-fannish connections (enjoy the show but that's about it) can be to any gender. I've noticed over the years that I tend to relate to male characters much more than female, though after the male character(s) has drawn me in, I start to appreciate most of the female characters too.

Oh, and I also love friendship/team equals family. Especially with bickering thrown in! John and Rodney are pretty much perfection in that area most of the time! :D
I also love friendship/team equals family

Yes, this too! There's just something so attractive about the idea of choosing your family, and blood-don't-equal-family.
Yeah, that last one -- finding family, finding home, that's really a huuuuge part of what has drawn me into a whole bunch of different canons. ♥

I think sometimes I gravitate towards characters not so much because they fit a trope that I like, but just because they're strikingly different from the other characters in their canon or genre. Which might be what's going on with you, with some of them like Hettie ...? (Who I also really like -- I just drifted away from the show ...)
Haha, yeah, competence!kink is totally a thing. I don't think I'm actually capable of liking a character who isn't competent at what they do, but then there aren't many characters who appear on your screen who are lackluster in that respect.

As for the protective vibe I kind of dig it but for me a real turn on is some kind of a relationship where you feel that both people are equals. I don't mean that they are both equally good at the same thing, but rather that they are each on equal footing with each other due to their respective competencies in their areas. This is why sometimes Peter & Neal don't work for me as a relationship I enjoy, because sometimes it is very apparent how unequal they are in terms of power dynamics. Sometimes a relationship with a power imbalance can work for me but it would be a very rare exception to the general rule.

Actually one of the easiest tests that I tend to perform on any romantic relationships I ship is that I see whether I would still like the dynamic if it was girl-girl vs boy-boy vs boy-girl. Meaning if one or both of the characters changed gender, would I still find the relationship appealing? Most of the pairings I ship seem to be gender-irrelevant in that sense.

As for the straight up example of a character I cannot help but fall for that fulfils both competence and protective characterizations, I think you're familiar enough with SPN to know who Castiel is? A literal guardian angel who is obviously by nature of his species, not to mention character, "badass". *g* I stood no chance.
Mmm, yeah, competence kink for the total win. :D

Talking about the equal thing, I think some of the relationships that I love are that way because the characters maybe shouldn't be equal but really are, like Crowley and Aziraphale in Good Omens, or Steve and Bucky in MCU (and I would put Peter and Neal in that category as well, but YMMV).

I do know Castiel, yes!
Heh, your fannish list is way more diverse than mine ;) my character preference can be easily summed up as "broken/going through a lot of crap in their life but moving forward regardless, and using snark and banter to do so". Which can, at times, be a very painful characterization to watch, especially if said character isn't getting a lot of much needed comfort *cough*Merlin!*cough*. Although there are variations of this, because my second preference are characters who've lived an exceedingly difficult life and are scared and timid because of it, but who are kind and caring, yet need someone just as kind and caring to help them out (Smike from Nicholas Nickleby is a prime example of this. Smike never wallowed in his misery, because he was too dang happy being free from that misery to do any wallowing, and his devotion to Nicholas was adorable). What really pushes my buttons, though, are big guys protecting the little guy type deals, and I emphasize guys because I think there is this stereotype of sorts in which guys are often portrayed as not being all that compassionate toward other guys (unless they're related to said guy), so when they are compasionate it makes me all kinds of giddy, especially if it's a big, strong tough type helping a small, scrawny, somewhat helpless type. But, then, I'm just a sucker for kindness and compassion in general ;)

But competence and be-there-all-the-way-for-you friendships - yes, love those. Love those like crazy.
Everyone's got their own types! :D I think it's interesting because I have several different types I go for (and some characters who don't fit the mold at all), but I do have specific types, although I often recognize them only in retrospect.

And mmm, yeah, kindness and compassion, especially from characters for whom it's a little unexpected or out of character -- yeah, total sucker for that. :)
Very interesting. You know, for me it's the friendships and group dynamics that make things interesting. I think that's why I've always preferred group comic books over solitary heroes
I'm with you there! While I usually have a favorite character(s) in the group, I rarely fan on a character in isolation.
Yep, exactly this which is why I didn't mind Cap. America in the Avengers but never really followed him solo. Ditto Batman and Batman in the Justice League
Interesting timing on this-- I've actually been thinking about this subject lately in relation to how I can use my favorite character types in my own writing. It's weirdly difficult to put into action-- the characters I love can be hard to write.

Somewhat unsurprisingly (considering I arrived here through your fic, which generally focuses on the characters I also find interesting!) we seem to overlap a lot on these, especially the hyper-competent hyper-sarcastic character, and the bickering pair who would do anything for each other. The human weapon learning to become a person gets me too, but I think it's from a slightly different angle; I tend to like characters who have had shitty pasts but are doing their best to hold it together and move forward (with, of course, plenty of backsliding. ;)

In addition to those, I also tend to go for the comic relief characters-- it's one part the snark, but mostly because, I think, one of my absolute favorite story tropes is 'comic character is forced to get serious (and show they are actually competent)'. Also, like I mentioned above, I think the comic relief characters pair well with the 'character hiding a shitty past' trope.

I also go for some of the pure-brawn characters, though I'm not actually sure why that is. Partly the competence kink; partly something about strong characters being willing to take damage for other people because they know they can survive it?

There's a couple other characters I like that I'm trying to pull together into a trope (Lorne from SGA and Havoc from FMA), but I'm not sure what it would be... put-upon sidekicks, maybe?

Writing this out... huh. This is all probably why Tommy Shepherd from Young Avengers is one of my favorite characters of all time, as he hits just about all of these tropes (snarky/comic relief; has an on-the-surface antagonistic relationship with his brother, but when push comes to shove they'd do anything for each other; was locked up and experimented on to become a living weapon, but is doing his best to move forward).

Edited at 2014-11-11 05:50 am (UTC)
Also, characters who are on the outside of a group and trying to fit in but not quite succeeding (again, Tommy Shepherd). I think a lot of these have to do with what ends up making for the best h/c...
*nods* Competence, yesssss. :) And bickering-yet-fond, I will never NOT be a sucker for that!

I think it's quite possible that sometimes I go for the comic-relief-turned-serious characters as well -- like both Rory and Mickey on Doctor Who, who don't fit ANY of my established character types, but were among my very favorites in their respective seasons. But that doesn't quite seem to be the angle that I approach them from ...? I'm not sure. I think one of the things I like best in characterization is being surprised (er, pleasantly surprised, I mean), when characters reveal hidden depths, and a lot of the characters who don't fit one of my other "types", like Zuko, might quite possibly fall under that category -- characters who seemed to be one (rather shallow) thing, and then turned out to be SECRETLY AWESOME. So maybe that's another type for me too. :) (And Rodney probably fits it as well!)
....Zero Sum Game made a fannish post. *dies* \o/

Also, I'm pretty sure your character types are exactly my character types. ARE WE SURPRISED. :D