USA TODAY recently wrote a piece called The 101 Most Influential People Who Never Lived. Here are the top ten:
1. The Marlboro Man
2. Big Brother
3. King Arthur
4. Santa Claus (St. Nick)
6. Dr. Frankenstein’s Monster
8. Sherlock Holmes
9. Romeo and Juliet
10. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
So I started thinking about it: Which fictional characters have influenced me the most? I remember always wanting to be as good as Laura Ingalls, do the right thing, be kind, etc… Of course, I usually felt more like Nellie Olson, but that’s okay; Laura still influenced me. Santa is a given; I was well-behaved for at least a few weeks out of the year for him. Hmm, Betty Crocker probably had something to do with my early love of brownies, and Popeye for my desire to try to like spinach…again and again from the can (never once raw in a salad). And the shark from Jaws? He can be thanked for my enduring thalassophobia.
Thinking about what it takes to build an influential character reminds me a little of my post about characters who are The Most, but I think there’s more to it than that. To be influential, a character must somehow cement an “If-Then” scenario in our heads. For example: If I eat spinach, then I will be strong. If I buy that box, then I will then be able to make luscious brownies. If I fall in love with someone my family hates, then all will end in disaster, and if I fall in love with a priest, then surely I will never be satisfied. If I smoke that brand of cigarettes, then I will be cool. If I go into the ocean past my ankles, then I will be stalked by a giant predatory fish; I will feel his oversized vampiresque teeth pierce my flesh; I will sense his hatred for all mankind as he’s feasting on my blood and crushing my bones into chunks sized for his slip-oozey throat — Ack!!!
So what do you think? Are there benefits to creating these characters? Which characters have influenced you the most over the course of your life and how?