(This is a bit of a science/science fiction type of question from River Acheron in the ‘Comicality Library’! Anybody here want to give your thoughts? You are all welcomed to join in on the convo! Stuff like this makes for some really thoughtful discussion! We’d love to hear what you think as well! To join in on the fun, visit the thread in the Library using this link, https://www.voy.com/17262/26637.html , and let your imagination run wild! 😛 It’s fun to give the old brain a work out from time to time! Jump right in! And THANKS, River! I like this!)
Okay, on the surface, this seems like a ridiculous question, and any self-respecting materialist would scoff at the very notion! However….the answer really is not so clear cut as it may seem, from a psychological point of view, a philosophical point of view, and even a quantum physical point of view.
First of all…lets talk about a relatively new psychological idea known as the psychosphere. Apart from being a badass name for a Black Metal band, the psychosphere is the essence of all sentience, of mental intelligence. Basically a “world” of thought outside our physical universe. Okay, fine so far…but is it REAL? I would answer, “What does “real” even mean?” To quote The Matrix, “how do you define “real?”” It’s an interesting notion. Our thoughts, our ideas, our stories are created by us, right? So in this sense, they exist. Sure, there is no physicality, not REALLY, but then again OUR reality is not physical either at the fundamental level. Physicality is an illusion. What we perceive as solid – as matter – is really just energy at it’s core. Everything is. You don’t slam into a brick wall because it’s “solid”, you do so because of the repulsiveness of the electromagnetic force. Then….are we SO different from our thoughts? Do our thoughts and stories exist “somewhere”? Are these fictional characters and the stories we create for them acted out “somewhere?” (It also makes one ponder if WE are a “fiction” to someone or something else.) Some believe it takes a form known to New Agers an the Astral Plane, but the more skeptical think the psychosphere is a bit more ephemeral than that. Too abstract to even ponder, yet must be given credence.
But…..could fictional characters ACTUALLY exist in our physical reality? Ah, that’s where the notion of the Multiverse comes into play. There are many different kinds of parallel universes theorized by modern theoretical physics, but I will focus on two. (The other two popular ones, a String Theory Multiverse, and the bubble universes of Inflation Theory are so fucking interesting, but I can’t begin to describe them here without insane math.) lol. But the other two I can sum up. The first comes if you accept that space is infinite. (Which is still debated). If the universe IS infinite, (INFINITY is the key here and I cannot stress that enough!!), and since particles can only be configured in a LIMITED number of ways, then *every…single….possible* configuration must be repeated an infinite number of times. (Travel far enough and you’ll find a planet that is also called Earth and it’s identical to ours. And another one where the South won the civil war. Another where the characters and episodes of ‘Friends’ and ‘Cheers’ ACTUALLY happened.) Get it? With infinity, not only is every conceivable possibility likely, it’s a must! Basically, if the multiverse is real (and many many physicists believe it is…some even say it must be), then the multiverse contains infinite realities. As a consequence of that, there must be infinite realities where characters who exist as fiction, exist as actual entities in others. The same is true of the opposite. There must be alternate realities in which WE are the fictional characters. There would also exist realities EXACTLY like ours, there’s another “you”, except that cup of soda you put down is just a millimeter to the left.
Another form of the multiverse is the Many Worlds Interpretation. AKA the Quantum Multiverse Theory. The consequences would be the same as above, but they arise different. It’s a BIT complicated and has to do with something called the wave function, which is just a mathematical description of the quantum state of an isolated quantum system. Basically for every choice that’s made, the universe literally branches and splits. Flip a coin….the universe splits. Heads in one, tails in the other. Pretty much same as the other multiverse theory, but instead of distances in space, this has to do with a universe constantly splitting due to quantum decoherence. And the evidence is piling up with this theory. Quantum decoherence we KNOW happens. It’s a issue with quantum computers actually. And in fact some say that since quantum computers ACTUALLY work, the Many Worlds Interpretation must be true.
So…are fictional characters real? Have your favorite books, online stories, movies, TV, and even fanfiction have played out somewhere, sometime, in some reality? It’s POSSIBLE.
Comicality – “An interesting idea! And YES, I think they do!
First, before I begin, would you mind if I added your article to Imagine Magazine? I really like the idea of this article. 🙂
So, are fictional characters real? As you pointed out, I think it depends on how you ‘define’ real. There are many times when people will ask how I can keep the stories straight in my head, even after they’ve gone without an update for an extended period of time. The truth is, these characters are ‘alive’ in my mind. I never forget who they are, what they’ve done, or what’s going on in their lives. So picking up right where I left off is very easy for me personally. Now, does that mean that they physically exist? Who knows? If the theory of the power of the ‘observer’ in quantum physics is anything to go by…then yes, they probably do. They’re more real to me than a stranger that I’ve never seen or haven’t met yet. So, I guess it’s possible.
It’s like, if you’re playing a video game, especially in this day and age with the advanced AI and all…there are characters that can move independently of one another. They can ‘hear’ you if you make a noise. They can ‘see’ you if you step into the light. You might be a soldier playing against enemy combatants…but think about this…that video game character is wandering around in its own landscape. It can think and react to your presence. Even when they’re not on the screen or a part of the game, they’re basically living a LIFE inside the game. A life with limited choices and within a limited space, sure…but they’re actually somewhat sentient when you think about it.
If you’re playing Grand Theft Auto…those digital character are walking around in the streets, some with friends, they’re driving cars, there are cops that will pull you over or chase you if they catch you speeding through a red light. But the question is…what are they doing when you’re not playing the game? If you just left the game on for six hours without touching the controller, wouldn’t it be just like the Matrix? With people and stores and strip clubs and birds and clouds and day turning to night and vice versa? We don’t think of them as being real, but with the exception of being self aware, are they really all that different from us in our daily lives? I feel like I have an infinite amount of choices of what I want to do with my life, but in reality, my life revolves around a tiny routine with a few variations here and there. Depending on time, energy, amount of money…so I’m basically a video game character in my own right. Who knows? Maybe some 14 year old kid is controlling me in this weird simulation right now instead of doing his homework. Hehehe! What a boring game that would be!
Ryan Reynolds was making a movie about something like this, which I was looking forward to, but, you know…pandemic. But it looked funny!
Anyway, good article! Loved it. And, yes…fictional characters can be real. Did you know that your brain cannot create faces when it’s dreaming? It has to use faces that you know or that you might have seen somewhere in passing. It can’t just ‘make it up’. Which means, it had to be real. So if you can create the fiction, it had to be real somewhere at some time. 😛
Juju – “Let me begin by quoting Douglas Adams, “Let us think the unthinkable, let us do the undoable, let us prepare to grapple with the ineffable itself, and see if we may not eff it after all.”
Are fictional characters real? Yes, at the very least to their creators. They certainly seem to be to our readers based on requests for future stories about characters with whom they have developed a relationship. The question you might be asking though is, are we real to our characters. Are all of us, fictional characters included, mere figments of some spotty blue creature on a distant moon of some unknown (to us) planet in another galaxy? To take it further, are we the result of the equivalent of a convenience store pastrami sandwich on rye bread that was left on the shelf too long? (see Ergot)
Given that thought is energy, what we know about the universe wouldn’t fill a demitasse cup even if it was only a quarter of its current size. I suspect that if one does suddenly have an epiphany and says, “Oh so that’s it, I get it now.” That individual will be whisked off to another plane of existence before they have a chance to spoil the surprise for everyone else.
Quantum theory, String theory, Particle theory? No Idea. The math is stultifying. There is always someone toiling away at either proving or disproving a theory. Peer review my ass, it’s jealousy pure and simple. After endless toil, a proclamation is issued that e.g. “string theory” is dead, and just as the phone begins to ring with congratulations the poor bastard suddenly realizes, “Oh crap, that should be an R not an X.” And promptly has a soothing cup of h2so4 to settle his nerves.
Back to fictional characters, do they regard us as deities? That would be hard to answer. Perhaps in one of the many dimensions, bubbles or ethereal planes (choose your poison) this is true. We as a species have only just transitioned from using pointy rocks to complete most of our tasks related to survival. I believe it will be quite a while before we tackle any of the less tangible issues.
It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, just don’t expect an announcement in your Twitter feed any time soon.
JeffsFort – This is a fun topic, and one that we have played with for years. Do I believe the characters I have created are real? Absolutely. They are as real to me as any memory of any living person who has ever passed through my life. They have had a real impact on me and when other people read about them, they become real to them as well. Pretty simplistic when tossed out there like that right? Now consider this, I dare you to find one author who can’t tell you that their characters don’t aid in the direction when typing out a scene. Sounds funny but, any author I have ever had a conversation with has always had a story about how they sat down with a clear plan in mind for a scene and had their character turn the tables on them and take it in a different, unexpected direction. It comes to us in the form of an idea when typing. One that won’t let you ignore it. “This character would be happier if this happened this way instead.” It’s not even a thought that something would play better, the dialog in your head simply changes itself. Who is responsible? Well, the author sat down with a clear idea to simply type out. It was planned out in advance and it would lead perfectly to the next scene. Then as you are allowing the scene to develop and the narration goes as planned, the character manipulates the scene. Now the author is simply along for the ride as the character’s actions simply dictate what usually turns out to be a much better scene or lead to a better plot than the original idea would have.
Most people would probably think you’re nuts if you went public with this apparent character ‘possession’ but not only has it happened to me, the group that I work with absolutely has the same thing happen, and often. It has been so common for us that we even have a collection of “Bloopers” that we like to take credit for but honestly, we just recorded them and had lots of fun in the process. But does that mean they are real?
All insanity aside, if something has a real impact on your life in any way, it has to be real. I strongly believe that by imagining a situation and the person or persons that we experience this situation through, their personality takes on a life of its own. The more real they are in our imagination, the better their story. But then something strange happens. They begin to lead us and loudly protest if they don’t like an idea that we throw at them. To the point of ruining a scene and forcing rewrites. As an example, I wrote a story with the intent of ending it with the end of the main character’s life. He had outlived everyone he had ever loved and just wanted it to end. I started on that path with a clear plan to follow. The little bugger was not happy with my proposed idea and in enjoying the process of developing his personality, I made the mistake of allowing him to lead me through many of the scenes. Once I realized that he was making meaningful connections to other characters, he all but told me that he was not going to die in this story…yeah, you guessed it; he was in the final scene. They may not be of the same flesh and blood that we are but they are real. If they weren’t, we wouldn’t/couldn’t be so affected by them. That’s my story anyway 😉 And yes Juju, we are real to our characters. I argue with mine ALL THE TIME!!!
The Eggman – How many times have I asked myself, “Where the hell did those words come from?”
I’ve been writing now since 1997, an amazing twenty-three years, and the answer for the number of times the questions comes to mind is somewhere in the thousands. I’m not that smart. I’m not schizophrenic. I can’t “be” all the characters portrayed in the stories I’ve written, they’re far too varied in attitudes and perspectives.
Maybe its because I started writing as myself and as others that I’ve known intimately that I easily took the next the step by thinking, “What if I was different?” Can I make a fictional character more real; can I show change, or growth, or even regression, in the character’s psychological qualities? Those were the base of the questions I asked of myself as I began moving from non-fiction to fiction. I also read the book “Danse Macabre” by Stephen King, where he outlined qualities of horror in society, and to a lesser in extent, in his writings.
Initially, it was a bit of a stretch to become different people, but it became easier as the years passed. I had character notepads so I could have a character base, and then as storylines progressed, update the notes to show the catalyst and the resulting change.
When Preston O’Brian’s mother dies in chapter 13 of “A New Life” I was living out my own fears in reality as my companion and best friend of 13 years approached the end of his life. It was a Halloween horror story, but it was so much more to me. It was my dog Zeus’ aging and becoming less able to live a comfortable life. Just as importantly, Zeus didn’t understand why he fell, why his body was failing him, why he needed to seek me out more often. Two weeks later, on November 14th 1999, I had to stop delaying the inevitable burden and say goodbye.
In a personal state of confusion and disarray, I had to learn how to live without Zeus. I couldn’t have a sandwich. As I had for thirteen years, I trimmed the fat off of slices of roast beef and tossed the bits on the floor for him, and then broke down in tears as I picked up the mess and tossed it away, and then could barely eat the sandwich, trashing almost half of it. I’d retire to the computer and my fantasy world, writing the characters I’d created and making them new again, as I wished I could with Zeus, and as can be found in chapter 14, 15 and 16 of “A New Life”.
Now read about my new puppy, named Thor, as I started writing about Christmas in my fantasy world. Again, you see a huge change from the somber reality of death of a loved one, to the restoration of a relationship, as I made my new companion my friend. And all the while, as I’m phased out, practically automatic writing like a psychic might, I’m snapping out of it, then preparing to return to reality, taking notes as to how the characters changed in their newly defined world.
The Story Lover – Are fictional characters real, to ask an author that question poses an interesting conundrum? If the author answers yes, his fictional characters are real, many people will look at him like he is crazy. On the flip side of that, if the author says no, his characters may rebel, and the author will find writing future stories very hard if not impossible.
On the surface how can fictional characters be real, as they are only a collection of letters that form the words, that give characters their names and their descriptions? So if they aren’t real, how do they become real? Does a combination of words give them life or is it the belief of readers that gives them life?
For myself, when I started out writing Hearts Across Space, I had no idea whether characters were real. To be honest, I hadn’t even thought about it. Hearts Across Space was designed and outlined as a three-book series, and yes, I said that four-letter word ‘outlined’. However, that outline only lasted a few chapters as certain characters including two that were designed only as cameos demanded that I not only expand their roles but change how I was writing their story. Yes, I said demanded, and yes, I said their story. When I mentioned to ACFan, and a few others that I was being forced to throw out my outline because of some characters, they just laughed at me and said, “Welcome to the club”.
So, you may ask how did those characters become real and take over your writing, it is very simple actually. They simply evolved and interacted with my thoughts as I was putting letters on paper or on the screen. How is this possible? As I type or write the word that defines a character’s personality and physical description, an image appears in my mind, and as I add more words about the character, especially about their interactions with scenes and other characters they change from a 2D representation to a fully rounded 3D lifelike image with character/personality and intentions.
The number of outlines that get tossed, and prequels that, were forced to be written because of characters must number in the trillions. As characters are developed and expanded, they not only take on life in the author’s thoughts but in the minds of the readers as well. Just as an author versus a writer put you in the scene and story, a well-crafted character, draws you into becoming them and experiencing their story from their eyes and or perspective. If a character can draw you into the story and becoming them, and you are real, then how could they not be real?
Many of the prequels that are written, and quite a few of the spin-offs were written because characters changed the direction of the original story and the author had to write more books to cover the issues, and scenes that weren’t covered originally due to their characters taking control of their story.
In Hearts Across Space, the ‘Imps’ Logen and Cobi weren’t supposed to appear much later in the story and were only supposed to be part of Alexii’s back story. However, they appeared in my thoughts and completely changed the direction of the story, and what was supposed to only be a few paragraphs about them became a whole chapter, and now they are an integral part of the story. A similar thing happened with Alexander. He was also only supposed to make a few cameo appearances in Book One, and not become a major character until Book Two, which was supposed to be about him. Well, Alexander ruined that when he took over my fingers and wrote Chapter Three. What’s an author to do?
When I asked ‘Goos’, Jonah, and A’lexii this question their answer was a resounding “Duh”!
Another answer to this question is if that is if you become the character, and believe they are real, then they are real.
I believe that a lot of characters are created and molded as a result of things occurring in the world around the author as they are developing the character(s). They are a subconscious manifestation of how an author wishes that he or she or people in the world would believe and behave. Can fictional characters influence the world we live in? The answer in my opinion is a resounding yes. If a Fictional Character can get people to think and act differently, then yes, they can affect the world we live in. If more people would take Draconis’ wisdom and her way as their personal belief, this world would be a far better place to live.
Another example of how Fictional Characters are real, is when people start to ask, what would a character think, what would a character say, or how would a character react?
Are all Fictional Characters real? Of course not. Only those that the author has breathed life and soul into.
You may call me crazy, but I firmly believe, ‘Goos’, A’lexii, S’ean, and Jonah are real, as I become them and channel them into the words that I write.
If Fictional Characters weren’t real, the words we write wouldn’t be the same and you wouldn’t enjoy reading them as much as you do now.
I want to thank ‘Goos’, Jonah, Timmy, and A’lexii for their help in writing these words.
ACFan – Ahhh, the infinite question… I’m positive that someone had asked me about that next month! No, that wasn’t a mistake; as Time is only a perception as well.
For some background, I’m a student of the writings of Robert A. Heinlein, have been since I was a teen. If you want a good read on this subject, check out his Expanded Universe stories, because he goes into details about multiple universes that boggle the mind, yet make total sense. Infinite combinations of infinite possibilities – and very few people can comprehend more than the ones they see.
The reality of the participants in my stories has not been a question to me since the day I started writing. Notice that I said “participants’ – a character does what you want, a participant guides you to write down what they are seeing, feeling, and experiencing. Any good story has both types – the characters are used by the participants to set up the storyline.
Until October, 2002 I had never considered writing a story for public or private use, even though I knew it was recommended therapy for survivors of abuse. That was changed by two teens who not only appeared in my dreams over a period of a week, but they persisted in my head even after I woke up. Comicality convinced me that I needed to write what they were telling me down, and my story “Memories” was born.
Since that initial start, they have consistently driven the storyline, to the point that I just sit down and think “Okay guys, what’s next?” and words pile up on the screen (IF they happen to be in the mood to share with me!). Remember, I came into this with NO writing experience, and had a “D” average in High School English! The chapter that I’m currently working on gained 2 new characters that came out of nowhere – yet I do not see any way to undo it without crippling the story. I couldn’t dream up half of what has been written in the last eighteen years no matter how hard I try, yet I find myself writing fresh material every time I sit down and write – that is a sure sign that I must be documenting something happening somewhen somewhere other than here.
Do they exist because we are writing them? I really don’t think so; it feels more like I’m following along with them through their lives. If another author suggests one of my kids do something, I can feel it if they say “no” to the idea. In my case, it is not just one or two characters… it is hundreds if not even over a thousand! (I stopped counting part way through book one.) I’ve watched as each one of the participants of my stories have grown emotionally, with no conscious input from me to cause it to happen.
To sum it up, my thoughts are that some of us are born with the gift of seeing beyond our physical plane, and the ones that accept their gift become authors, sharing the lives of other residents of Creation with our fellow humans who did not have the luck of receiving the sight. To me, Cory, Sean, Kyle, JJ, and the rest of the group are “my” kids, and are just as real as the readers of this reply. Hugzzz…
WhoamI – First of all I definitely like to think that fictional characters are real, just because it is a nice feeling to believe it. And I really like the idea to find those characters mirrored in reality in many aspects by persons that of course do not have the exact same story, but are similar in some ways.
But if I try to look at it very rational and let the scientist in me speak, I feel like a few things tend to be forgotten over the whole multiverse theory. The term „infinity“ is always interesting, hard to grasp and reaches the limits of the human mind, but infinite universes do not necessarily mean that there is every imaginable universe. There is only every realizable universe. Scientifically the laws of physics etc. would still need to apply.
And I won’t say here, what is possible and what is not, because probably we still know not much about the universe, but I am certain, that there are things that are not possible. And since authors do sometimes make mistakes in what would be possible or just like to stretch reality a bit, there are quite a few stories, that would never happen in any universe.
In my opinion especially to video games there is a big contrast here, because they usually are not able and do not try to picture reality and the physics of it completely. (Especially I would think, that it would be more like the coincidence of a boy playing exactly what happens in our universe as a video game than him controlling any other universe. I would not like the idea of time just stopping forever, because someone got bored with us. The concept of time on the other hand is something for a big and long discussion itself.)
There are many things that could actually be possible, maybe there is the possibility of some form of vampires, but I believe that there are many impossible things, too. That would mean that many stories would never happen in any universe the way they are written. I don’t want to be a spoilsport, but I feel like the idea of the multiverse is often connected with such enthusiasm that there is often exaggeration in what actually could be. I really like movies etc. that explore the topic, but sometimes the depiction is just terrible.
However, this was my scientific point of view.
Despite that I still just like the idea to believe in some of the protagonists being out there and I definitely love those integrations of the idea such as the mentioned reference of Billy Chase in New Kid in school. I really hope, I don’t appear to narrow-minded here, I just wanted to try a realistic approach so that the topic is covered in a wide angle.
Anyway, those (physically) mysteries of the universe are really great to think about and can keep one busy for a long time. 🙂