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3 Ways Fictional Characters are NOT Real People

In creating compelling characters, you need to draw inspiration from people in the real world. The aim is always to make your characters as realistic as possible so that readers can create a bond with them. But fictional characters are not real people, and knowing this also helps create intriguing lifelike characters. 

Famous imaginary people like Holden Caulfield and Odysseus are not as realistic as your next-door neighbor, but they might be a lot more captivating. To achieve the creation of such iconic characters, you need to know how far into the world of real men they are allowed to tread, and below are three boundaries they shouldn't risk crossing. 

1. The Boundary of Being Truly Complex

No matter how complex, round, and multifaceted a fictional character seems to be, compared to real people, they are simple. Characters in a story are limited to the number of words used by the author to talk about them. But an actual person, even the blandest of men, is a never-ending compilation of words, a product of an eternity of genetics, centuries of culture, and a lifetime of experiences. The best of fictional characters is but a simple reflection of human complexities.

This simplistic nature of fictional characters explains their clarity. We can claim to know all there is to know about fictional characters more than real people because through the course of the story, we are made aware of events and information that broadly and precisely define who they are. This illusion of full disclosure through a limited volume of text cannot apply to real people.

2. The Boundary of Limited Exposure

What we know about the people in our lives is based essentially on what lies on the surface. What we know about our family and friends comes from what they look like, what they sound like, who their parents and siblings are, the company they hang with, their actions, and the things they say. To understand what goes on in their mind, we have to rely on what we can see and observe about them. 

However, from how we know ourselves, we also know that people are more than what they appear to be. Within our minds is a complete universe unknown to the eyes of the closest observer. Our thoughts and emotions and worldviews exist in a world of their own and define us in ways that only we are aware of, yet not fully aware of. While on earth, we are on an endless journey of self-discovery.

But for a fictional character, we get to know them even more than we know ourselves, that is if the author permits. An omniscient or close third-person narrator lets us into the mental universe of a character, the way they feel, and the thought pattern that drives their action. Having such direct access to the consciousness of other human beings is an essential difference between fictional characters and real people.

3. The Boundary of Relevance to Unfolding Drama

When the story ends, all we know about a fictional character ends. Well, except in fairytales, we know that they all lived happily ever after. Fictional characters are known only through the parts of their life that advance the plot or are fascinating to readers. The totality of their imaginary existence is encapsulated in riveting highlights and memorable plot points.

But this is not the same with real life. In reality, a person's life is the totality of many experiences, boring, mundane, and exciting. Even a soldier on an intriguing, adventurous war mission has moments in his mission that won't make it into a successful war story. The vast majority of our lives consist of an endless chain of ordinary moments that no one else — and sometimes not even us — is interested in. 

Some stories like The Catcher in a Rye deliver a minute-by-minute progression of everyday life. But even with these professedly all-inclusive fictional accounts, we are exposed to only a few hours of the characters’ lives. No fictional narrative narrates the entire report of every moment from the minute a character wakes to the moment before he falls asleep.

Written by Readers’ Favorite Reviewer Frank Stephen