Have you ever fallen in love with a fictional character?
Sad to say, yes, I have.
And to be fair, most people have. There are few people in this world who haven’t fantasized about someone. Sherlock Holmes, James Bond, Zoe Washburne, Velma Dinkly, Cole Brookstone, Harry Dresden… the list goes on. I bet if you ask anyone of your friends and they’re being COMPLETELY honest, (albeit, embarrassed) they’ll admit that they too had/have a crush/fascination on a fictional character.
Why do we do this? It’s not like we’re ever going to run into the Spinjitsu Master of Earth while we’re out on any random hiking trail. You have a greater probability of running into Scarlet Johansson at the public library than you do of meeting Harry Dresden.
Even if your library is situated in Chicago.
Well, the answer is very basic (as I’m sure you’re aware) – They’re idealized versions of a persona. You don’t get to see the bad habits and idiosyncrasies that they unconsciously perform every moment of every day. You never see Zoe Washburne completely loose her shit and scream bloody murder and threats of divorce because her husband left his dinosaurs out for her to step on (again). You never get to see James Bond turning into a total dick about some fast-food joint putting pickles on his hamburger when he expressly directed them not to, and cause a scene because of their presence (Just peel them off and toss ’em, man. Unless you have a food allergy is it seriously worth this level of drama?). You never see Velma Dinkly…
Okay, scratch that. In Scooby-Doo Mystery Incorporated (2012-2013) Velma was perhaps the most emotionally believable character in the cast, so if you discard the fact that she was impossibly smart, she was otherwise a normal teenage girl, warts and all (in that iteration of the show). But the fact that she would totally take a course from the local learning annex on Ancient Mayan Language Arts with you and not trash your interest in it is pretty damned attractive (finding a learning annex that would actually teach that sort of thing is a whole different matter).
But I digress.
We all have those moments in which we look at a real friend, our crush, a family member, our significant other and think (or perhaps say, possibly to no avail) “Why can’t you… Why do you… Can’t you just…”
It can be frustrating.
And just like fictional worlds can give the reader a moment or two of escape from the gnarly real one, fictional characters do the same thing for relationships. In part because we don’t usually see or even imagine Sherlock Holmes grumbling about the laundry – “towels in one pile, whites in another, darks over here, reds go in their own- ‘HANDWASH LINE DRY ONLY!?!’ Are you kidding me?! I don’t have time for that! Why the hell would you buy me this high maintenance wasitcoat? ‘100% Rayon?’ I hate Rayon! And WHO THE HELL THREW IN THEIR SNEAKERS WITH MY DENIM????!!!!! GAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!!”
No, no. We see Holmes as intelligent, dapper, witty, arrogant (in a bizarrely charming way because it isn’t aimed directly at us) and (depending on the iteration you prefer) physically attractive.
Because we don’t know what makes the fictional character crack. We don’t know what irritating habits they indulge in. We can imagine they’re in our world or we in theirs and how awesome and perfectly scripted everything is and when we need to come back to the real world, well, it’s not like you have to get your passport checked at the border or anything. Best of all – they’re not real. So it technically isn’t cheating. (Although an argument can be convincingly made about “spirit of the law vs. the letter of the law” and how “checking out of a relationship” with a fictional character is just as damaging as full-on physical adultery, but that’s another topic for another day.)
I have constructed several characters for my stories that I have fallen in love with on some level. During this construction, I’ve have always tried to fit in something to show the irritating side of the character; something that will make them more real – and I also tend to rip it out as well (Unless I need you, my reader, to see the character as an asshole/jerk who might actually deserve their bad end – in which case I will totally annoy you with how they clip their nails near where you’re eating. All the time. Even after you’ve asked them not to. Repeatedly.).
Perhaps I make the character’s idiosyncrasies a little too real, because they begin to irritate me and in my mind, distract from the story. So I end up trending back to the character’s “public face,” the face they show the audience. The face I initially fell in love with in the first place. We can sweep all those bad habits under the rug for another day. (Unless those frustrating habits serve my storytelling ends…)
I don’t think I’m ready to run off to Bora Bora with my characters (or anyone else’s for that matter), but if I love/despise the character I created, I think that’s a pretty good indicator that my reader will have some reaction to the construct, even if it does oppose my own (Seriously? You LIKE him? But he’s an ASSHOLE! I know because I CREATED HIM THAT WAY!).
I suppose any reaction beyond “meh” is better than nothing.
Check out the Insecure Writer’s Support Group to see more writers dish about their concerns, their solutions to various problems, or just general fictiophiliphobia. (Is that a word? I feel like that should be word. Screw it. If “twerking” can be a real word, so can “fictiophiliphobia.” It’s a word now.)