Why are we so invested in fictional characters?

Hiyo, everyone! Today, I’m going to talk about something I’ve been thinking about for a while – and, as a result, I’ll be making my first ‘philosophical’ post in quite some time! Why do we care so much about fictional characters?

The obvious initial explanation is that most of us are capable of empathy. Although we probably haven’t been on the sort of wild adventure many fictional characters experience, we’ve all faced our own struggles in life, so we’re able to relate to characters who are going through anything at all similar. But what I want to discuss is something a bit deeper than that. Something that may be common or may just be a quirk of mine. You see, I find myself often more attached to fictional characters than real people.

That’s a surprising outcome, to say the least. After all, you can’t really interact with fictional characters, They’re almost without exception not as thoroughly fleshed out as real people. So I’d like to explore a few reasons our (or, at least, my) interest in them is so strong.

To that end, I’ll list some differences between being attached to real people and to fictional characters.

  • Fictional characters exist to entertain. To do that, their writers find ways to show us as much about important characters as they can. The point of building up a character with a hidden past is to eventually reveal it. That’s not something you can say about the real world. Everyone you interact with in your daily life has their own personal issues to deal with, and they often won’t tell you all the details, if any. As a result, some of them will forever remain enigmas to you. There’s also the fact that, once a series involving a character is complete, they’ll never surprise you again. You don’t have to worry about them having interests you find unpalatable. They can no longer disappoint you when their stories are over. I expect that, to some people, that stability is appealing.
  • The fact that there are so many gaps in our knowledge of characters can actually make them more relatable. That’s because we can project ourselves – or whatever else we want – into those gaps. Many characters are written to face challenges broad enough that a wide variety of people can see connections between themselves and the character facing them. Think Elsa from Disney’s Frozen. There’s a reason the song ‘Let it Go’ was so popular. While I doubt any of us are harboring hidden ice magic, many of us have thoughts, experiences, or feelings that we feel the need to hide from others. By putting her fear behind her, Elsa delivers vicarious catharsis.
  • As humans, we’re curious about a broad range of emotions, but many are not ones we welcome into our own lives. No one wants to experience overwhelming guilt, or the grief of losing a loved one, or the devastation left in the wake of a catastrophic event. By letting characters have those experiences for us, we can explore those scenarios without anyone ‘real’ getting hurt. Tension that would turn to panic in real life instead becomes a source of entertainment when fictional characters are exposed to it. That’s why media like Game of Thrones are so compelling. Instead of worrying about how imperiled characters’ predicaments will unfold, we’re able to look forward to what will happen next.

All of that largely boils down to one truth: People are driven by conflict. Without some conflict, however minute, life quickly becomes boring. That’s why it’s such a central component of stories made to entertain. We yearn for conflict, but we want to experience it in a low-risk way. Stories can give us our fix of it without jeopardizing the relatively harmonious lives many of us wish to lead.

Anyway, that’s my initial take on the matter. If you guys are interested in this topic, I’d totally be willing to think on it further. For now, I’m curious to hear how others feel about it. Do you share my feeling of heightened interest in fictional characters, or have any thoughts of your own on the matter? Are you interested in seeing more posts like this? Please let me know in the comments below. Until next time, I hope you find stories that seize your attention!

Why I Love Writing Deeply Flawed Characters

Hiyo, everyone! Today, I’m going to talk about something a bit different – why I like writing ultra messed up characters in my work! I don’t plan on actually discussing my own characters in any depth; analyzing them is best left to the readers. Shameless plug – if you want to see some examples, please check out my sample fiction, Borne of Fear, here.

When writers discuss character flaws, they often express their dislike of ‘Mary Sue’s – characters who don’t have any large flaws. And they definitely have a point. It’s important for major characters in any work to start with flaws, not only to make them more believable, and also to leave room for character development. Fiction is most interesting to experience when the protagonists struggle against themselves in the process of pursuing their goals. But, in this post, I don’t intend to discuss your everyday flaws. I want to talk about characters who are so flawed it’s hard to look past their shortcomings. Here are two reasons why I love including them in my work!

They offer unusual perspectives

It’s safe to say those of us who frequently experience fiction have met multitudes of protagonists with straightforward good intentions. If they don’t want to save the world, they at least want to protect their loved ones. Maybe they have some personal ambition – to excel in their field of choice, to hook up with their ideal partner, or just to find a place for themselves in the world. Characters with such goals work because they’re relatable. Just about everyone has desires like that. It’s easy to get into that protagonist’s shoes.

But what about a character who wants to destroy the world? To be fair, they’re not all that uncommon, either. What sets the interesting ones apart from the rest is learning why they’re pursuing that goal. If they aren’t given a compelling reason, that turns into a letdown for the reader. But when they do have a good reason, they can be marvels to behold. There’s something satisfying about hearing a ‘bad’ character spout their twisted logic and seeing whether there’s any part of yourself that at all agrees. That could just be me, (in which case you all probably now think I’m crazy) but I don’t think so, because readers tend to latch on to those characters. They’re fun to analyze, and, deep down, some of us may want to learn if we, too, are a little messed up in places.

A similar thought process builds intrigue for characters who don’t want to destroy the world, but who have personal goals that would generally be considered ‘not okay.’ For instance, imagine a serial killer who wants to make their kill count as high as possible, or a financial trader whose secret ambition is to crash the global market. Such goals are more interesting to consider than ones based on, say, sheer greed. A character who wants to do terrible things that offer no tangible benefit to themself is inherently more intriguing. And the more invested the reader is in the story, the better!

They present a challenge

As a writer, once I’ve developed a screwed up character with sick goals, I strive to go one step further. I challenge myself to make that character relatable, if only a little bit. Behind all those mental gymnastics and fragile excuses, there exists a person who wants something akin to the rest of us. I want my readers to make that connection. Even if they neither like nor pity the monster I’ve created, I strive to lead them to understand the journey that brought my character to take such extreme actions. If you look closely enough, you may find the remnants of a person who wanted something not so different from the protagonists I described above. Love. A place in the world. Some meaning in their lives. The deeply flawed character may have gone too far, or lost too much self-awareness in pursuit of their goal to understand what they’ve become. I want to show that train wreck in full. I want my readers to be able to imagine the better people my characters might have become if they’d made different choices along the way.

So, darker topic today! Please let me know what you thought! Do you find yourself intrigued by deeply flawed characters? Do you think they’re overdone? Would you like to see more posts like this? I’m eager for your feedback. ‘Til next time, have a wonderful week, and ciao!


Why is this a tower of story?

Hiyo again, everyone! As promised, today I’m going to talk about something a little bit philosophical – why I call this tower a tower of story!

I can practically already hear one objection people might raise: “Why are you calling this place a tower at all? Clearly, this is just a website, you dummy!”

It’s true that most of the things people would call towers are physical objects of some sort, often made of wood or stone or maybe even metal and, um, whatever else people use to make buildings. But towers also have a basic structure to them – they can be super tall, but generally they don’t expand too much horizontally. Usually, for a building to be a tower, its height must be significantly greater than its width.

But why would anyone want a building (or part of a building) like that, anyway? I’m sure there are all sorts of answers, but I can only speak for myself, so I’ll narrow down the question – why were towers appealing to me in the first place?

This may be childish, but I guess the simple answer is because the higher up you are in your tower, the farther you are from the ground – and the rest of the world. Of course, that may not always be the case – for example, if there are lots of towers densely packed together like skyscrapers in a city – but the image in my mind was one of a lone tower, maybe in the middle of a town. From the top floor of such a tower, you could see everything around you without anyone getting close. And let’s not forget that a tower is still a building. It provides shelter from the outside world.

For a long time, I wanted that kind of protection and distance, but of course, I didn’t have a physical tower to hide in. Instead, I created distance by hiding behind a mask of lies – lies told both to others and to myself. When you think about it, quite a lot of each person’s perceived reality is made up of the narrative they feed themselves. Back then, I thought of myself as a brainy outcast who would live an ordinary life working some job for which she had no passion. I’d make more than enough money to support myself, so I could keep using my lies to maintain distance and spend the rest of my life hiding from all the meanies out there who made me so pitifully afraid. How despairful! The tower of lies I created was even worse than the things I’d escaped!

But that bleak tale wasn’t the only one I listened to. Like everyone else, I craved entertainment, and I found it in books, games, anime, and movies. I didn’t realize it at the time, but gradually, the stories I experienced through those mediums tweaked the one inside my head. They chipped away at the lies until enough of the truth was uncovered that I could see it for what it was.

My love of stories is not rooted primarily in amusement, but in the effects they can have. Once you realize that you wrap yourself in stories of your own creation (and I bet everyone does), you’re free to allow those stories to interact with ones you deem “fiction”, ’cause, actually, neither is any less true than the other. And if you choose the right stories to take inspiration from, they can change any negative self-narratives you may have into something better.

After all that babbling, I can finally get to the point! Stories can create structure far more binding than any physical material. Some of those structures can serve as prisons that isolate you from the rest of the world – but others can do the opposite. They can reach you even when you think you’re too high up for anyone to make contact. They can help you understand what you truly value in life and give you the courage to chase your dreams. Because of that, I have come to view creating stories as the highest calling I can pursue. I hope my characters can guide people the way that others have done for me.

So, with all that, I guess my opinion about stories is abundantly clear, but you may be asking yourself why I still like towers. After all, at first, my tower left me isolated, and allowed me the distance necessary to drown in bad self-narrative. After an experience like that, you’d think I’d want to run out of the tower screaming. But, here’s the thing: barring amnesia or something like that, each person’s tower of story is representative of their own life. My stories are me, and the past cannot be undone. My tower is a sort of progression – I build it one floor at a time, always using what I already have as a base to keep advancing upward.

And I’m not the only one doing that – the people around me do it, too. Since we seek meaning in our lives, we go out of our way to create that meaning ourselves. The image I had in my mind of a lone tower doesn’t represent the one I created, because in reality, there are other towers all over the place.

So, instead of running away, I continue to build my tower and, by doing so, move forward. I let helpful stories remodel where necessary to get rid of the self-sabotaging portions of my narrative. However, stories can do more than just improve your own tower; they can build bridges connecting your tower to others. Isn’t it just wonderful when you run into someone who’s passionate about a story you love? By sharing our experiences with well known stories, we find common ground and better understand each other.

Anyhow, I guess that’s enough of my rambling for now! If you read all of that, thank you, and I hope you found my perspective somehow interesting. Feel free to leave any questions and thoughts you have in the comments. Since this post is so abstract, next time, I’m hoping to do something a bit more concrete, like maybe talk about why I love some particular work of fiction. I’m a bit indecisive, though, so I haven’t chosen one to feature yet. Silly me!