Lena Corazon

Flights of Fancy

The Pygmalion Effect, or When Fictional Creations Steal Your Heart

It’s something that we’ve all done before: fallen in love with a fictional character.

Really, how can anyone be expected to resist the well-written character? They are vibrant, compelling, imbued with an energy that, at times, defies rational understanding. They leap off the page, demand our attention, and come to life in our imaginations.

They come to dwell within us; even after the book is long finished, we carry them around in our heads and hearts, maybe even sigh over them from time to time. They become old friends, and our lives are enriched because of them.

Sound familiar?

I covered my favorite fictional heroes about a year ago, but lately I’ve been thinking about the flip-side: how easy it is for a writer to fall in love with her creation.

Confession: This is something that I do on a regular basis, but I have one character who’s the alpha male among my collection of very attractive, very delicious heroes. Pierce is “my favorite mistake,” and since October 12th is his birthday, I thought I’d poke at this idea a bit further.

Pygmalion sculptant Galatée (Primatice)

Pygmalion sculptant Galatée (Primatice) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If ancient myths are to be trusted, then we can assume that artists have been falling in love with their creations for eons.  Anyone remember poor Pygmalion, the sculptor who fashions a statue so exquisitely beautiful that he falls desperately in love with it? As Ovid describes in his Metamorphoses,

[Pygmalion] took to art,
Ingenious as he was, and made a creature
More beautiful than any girl on earth,
A miracle of ivory in a statue,
So charming that it made him fall in love.
Her face was life itself; she was a darling—
And yet too modest to permit advances
Which showed his art had artful touches in it,
The kind of art that swept him off his feet;
He stroked her arms, her face, her sides, her shoulder.
Was she alive or not? He could not tell.

Pygmalion is so taken with his statue that he can’t quite tell the difference between fantasy and reality. His actions become, shall we say, a little unhinged. He brings “her” presents, decorates her with jewelry, pretends she’s his wife. He even tucks her into bed next to him where she sleeps “On cloth of purple, as if she shared his dreams,/Her head at rest upon a feathered pillow.”

Of course, I really can’t judge. I may not have, er, taken my fictional characters to bed with me, but we spend a lot of time together. They’re like my imaginary friends. I plot their lives, figure out their deepest wishes and desires, send them on adventures, periodically find ways to torture them, and eventually give them what they want.

Charming, right?

I know my characters better than I know my own family. Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but we’re close. So it shouldn’t be surprising that, like Pygmalion, I constantly crush on my heroes.

Hugh Jackman at the X-Men Origins: Wolverine p...

Hugh Jackman was the inspiration for Pierce. (Photo credit: Grant Brummett; Photo Source: Wikipedia)

None of them, however, have managed to get under my skin the way that Pierce has.

He really wasn’t supposed to. 10 years ago I was in the middle of a silly story starring all of my friends and me, this ridiculous little drabble about what we’d be like as grown-up people. Pierce was originally a minor character, introduced to create a very cliche love-triangle and inject a bit of tension into the story.

But sometimes (okay, often), those of us who write find that our creations take on a will and a mind of their own. In this case, Pierce flexed his considerable muscles and decided to stay. I couldn’t get rid of him.

Pierce was initially inspired by Hugh Jackman (they share a birthday) and his various roles. I infused him with Leopold’s old-fashioned charm and sense of honor, Wolverine’s love of motorcycles, and Eddie Alden’s wit, but over the last decade, he’s grown far beyond his origins.

Somewhere along the way, Pierce has become a healer, a painter, a gardener, a man protects and guards those who come his way. He’s responsible, steadfast, and serious–sometimes a little too serious for his own good.

Despite the many ridiculous situations I’ve thrown him into, I’ve realized that there’s a single constant: he begins his adventure without full knowledge of his powers and talents. He runs from his destiny, but he’s eventually forced into it by the woman whose fate is entwined with his.

So yay, Pierce, and happy birthday!

Birthday Cake

Birthday Cake (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But let’s wander back to Pygmalion for a moment. Unlike most artists, he receives the ultimate gift: the godess Venus takes pity on him and brings his statue to life. Ovid tells us that she even comes “down to be their guest at wedding/And blessed them both.” Not a bad ending for a guy that probably seemed a few screws loose to the rest of his family and friends. 😛

So what say you, friends?

Are there any fictional characters–either ones you’ve invented or ones that you’re drawn to from your favorite books/movies/television shows–that you’d like to see come to life? 

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7 Comments

  1. I think it was Holly Lisle who said if you’re writing romance, and you don’t fall in love with your heroes at least a little bit, you’re doing it wrong.

    Sounds like both of us are doing it right! 😀

    • Jennette, I love that sentiment! As writers, I think we have to get into our characters’ heads, and part of that process definitely involves falling in love with them. And if I may add, I think Tony is definitely a hero that is lovable! 😛

  2. Oh man i had it bad for my last hero, Gabriel. But I wrapped up the story, developed a crush/small obsession with British actor Eddie Redmayne and Gabe is history. And I am without a story to write.

  3. I remember fancying Reyn Khuprus from Robing Hobb’s Liveship Traders Trilogy, but it’s been such a long time (5-10 years) that I can’t put my finger on why. I think he was kind and courteous. I read my mums copies and I’ll inherit them one day.

    As for my own characters…uhh, there are several whose appearance I like 😛
    My mother’s read a bit of my WIP and she likes one the main characters. I agree that he’s cute, kind, just and saves the protagonist from a demon, but I always feel weird when I torture him because I keep wondering what mum will think XD

    I’ve tried to tell her more than a few times about what happens to him so it won’t come as a surprise, but I can’t say: “I’m going to do horrible thing to your favourite character.”

    • Emilia, so good to see you! And I’m cracking up about your having to tell your mother that you are going to do horrible things to her favorite character. Ah, the conundrums that we writers face. 😛

  4. i was just googling dragon headpieces when i unknowingly stumbled upon your blog..the mere mention of pygmalion got me reading until the very end..

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