Inspiring fictional characters

This article in the Guardian, about a report published by the literacy charity Quick Reads, set me to thinking about my own reading and writing.

Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mocking Bird is certainly an inspirational character, though his popularity is undoubtedly aided through being played by stalwart Gregory Peck in the film adaptation. It makes the publication of Go Set A Watchman even more questionable, revealing as it does his racist attitudes.

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The survey by Quick Reads had two different categories, of those characters that readers found inspiring and which ones they most identified with. It tells us something useful as writers creating our own characters, that people like protagonists with flaws:

The survey found that readers prefer to read about a character who makes mistakes (23%) and is funny (20%), than one who is brave (19%), loyal (17%) or kind (11%).

“It is clear that readers are not looking for flawless characters, but instead they are looking for real characters that show us that it is OK to make mistakes. Bridget Jones tops the list as the character that most women identify with, but interestingly she is also in the top five of most inspiring characters, too,” the researchers write.

“The realisation that others share similar feelings of imperfection or inadequacy creates a shift from being ‘alone’ to being ‘one of many,’ enabling readers to challenge previous ideas of being different or non-normal, and become more accepting of their true selves.”

I find it hard to split the difference between the characters who’ve motivated me and those who I feel akin to, but in no particular order:

1) Mole, Ratty and Toad from Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind In The Willows —for their loyalty to friends, love of home and Nature, daft obsessions and opposition to tyranny.

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2) Private Investigator Matt Scudder from Lawrence Block’s long-running New York-set crime novels. His unlicensed private detective is down on his luck and battling alcoholism after a tragic shooting when he was a cop. He’s resourceful, determined and flawed. I was doing cold turkey quitting drinking after 27 years of alcoholism when I first read the stories, and they really helped me. 23 years dry and clean this August, I don’t miss it a bit—life is a damned sight weirder sober!

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3) Dave Robicheaux, from James Lee Burke’s Louisiana set crime novels. Burke is a supreme prose stylist, one who Stephen King adores. His ex-cop, ex-infantryman hero is also an ex-alcoholic who endures and survives hardship and tragedy full of doubt and depression but still doing the right thing. He faces down some of the scariest villains in fiction.

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Who are you inspired by—and who do you like?

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