Why Do Your Characters Seem So Real?

They’re not real people … are they?


Have you ever stopped in the middle of writing a story and realized you’re going to miss your characters when their story ends? They feel like real people, sometimes … is that normal?

This isn’t weird at all. It happens to a lot of writers. If you wanted to, you could have an entire conversation with someone about all the ridiculous things your characters are up to in your book, as if they were actual people. That’s a good sign – and there are a few good reasons why you shouldn’t be afraid to admit your characters are basically your imaginary friends.

The more time you spend with them, the more relatable they become

The fictional personality phenomenon is the only way I am truly able to explain why this happens. Your relationship with your characters exists – and develops – because deep down, these are people you want to spend time with. These are situations you want to observe … and, admit it, manipulate, because you are the storyteller and therefore you are god. The longer you spend on a story involving a specific set of characters, the less imaginary they become to you. That’s why I’m an advocate for not rushing through writing a novel (NaNo doesn’t count – that’s DIFFERENT!). You have to take your time. Some of the best stories are those written by authors who have deeper relationships with the fictional people they create.

They are exaggerations of people you know, and extensions of yourself

Don’t even try to deny this one. Your characters’ personalities, likes, dislikes – they’re all based loosely off of people you know, and a little bit of yourself, too. That’s why hanging out with your characters almost feels like hanging out with real-world friends. You understand why they do the things they do. You know what they’re going to think, do and say even before they do it. What makes stories truly intriguing is knowing that there’s a little bit of truth in every element of fiction – and it’s up to the reader to decide what they believe and what they don’t. Only you, the writer, will be able to see a character from every possible angle – and that’s what makes them real to you.

You depend on them to bring you story to life

Not just your story – the collective “your” – your story, AND your characters’ story. This is a partnership. There are going to be points at which your characters don’t want to do what you’re telling them to do. They’ll also push for doing things you haven’t planned for them to do. Your story isn’t going to be the best it can be unless you and your characters work together. Compromise. Let your story go off in directions you had no idea it could go. That’s adventure. That’s the kind of story a person wants to sit down to read.

So here’s to the characters we know, have yet to meet, love, hate, need, don’t want around, wish we were, and never will be. Sometimes they get on your nerves, but your stories would be nothing without them.

Hey! If you enjoyed this topic, I wrote a whole (short) book about it. Just putting that out there.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.