Writer. Adventurer. Currently working on The Dreamless City, a series of steampunk novels and short stories.
Most readers* can agree that Harry Potter and Katniss Everdeen aren’t “real” in the walking around and paying taxes like other citizens sense of the word, but we all know who they are. We know what these characters are like. We can probably make a good argument for what kinds of movies they would enjoy and how they would order their hamburgers.
*I had to say most readers because there are a few who have a different way of looking at the world. Who am I to judge? I spoke Ewok for a year when I was a kid. I’ll let you pick your side in the Fictional Realists vs. Anti-Realists kerfuffle.
We know who Harry and Katniss are pretty well, if not better than how well we know our coworkers. The characters in our favorite stories are not two-dimensional paper cutouts; they are fully formed personas with hopes and dreams, wants and desires, strengths and weaknesses. They have friends and family, make relationships, and experience achievements that can redefine who they are.
When Harry and Katniss have a win, we cheer them on. When circumstances (and authors) conspire against them and the you-know-what hits the fan, readers worry for their safety. And when they experience the loss of friends and family, we are grieving right there beside them.
If readers know who characters are, what attributes and desires they have, and feel the emotions from their experiences, then how can we say in the way that our mind perceives things, that they aren’t just a little bit “real”?
If we can agree that other things such as love or math are real, then how can we not also say that Harry and Katniss aren’t also real in the same way. They are fictional objects, sure, but they have their own properties and attributes, so I would argue that they qualify for their own existence. Maybe not the taxes-paying kind of existence, but they are at least a little bit real.
What do you think? Do fictional characters really exist, and if so, how?