Harry Potter Isn’t a Real Dude

David Jauss recently wrote a pretty interesting article in The Writer’s Chronicle concerning the creation of fictional characters. The article is called Homo Sapiens vs. Homo Fictus. Basically the premise of the article is that fictional characters aren’t real and shouldn’t be treated as if they are. They’re another species of human being completely separate from their non-fiction counterparts (i.e. real life human beings).

I wasn’t sure what to make of the article because it hocks a loogie in the face of everything I’ve learned about the creation of fictional characters. I’ve always been taught that characters must appear as real as possible and in order to do that, the writer must know everything there is to know about that character. Most writers are encouraged at one point or another to create the wonderfully mundane “character outlines” that list all the important (and unimportant) characteristics of the characters in our novels – what their favorite food is, what their parents were like, where they went on their favorite vacation and so forth.

Jauss says those character sketches are bullshit and counterproductive to creating the individuals who will populate our fictional universes. The life the character lived before the story starts and the life they live afterwards is completely irrelevant…because there is no life for a fictional character outside the confines of the story we’ve plopped them down into. They’re not real. They don’t use the bathroom or need three balanced meals a day or concern themselves with paying for auto insurance. And thank God! Or else what terribly boring stories they’d exist in. Whatever details we need to know about the character will be developed during the writing.

While I was working on my first draft of Dystopia, it really concerned me that I couldn’t figure out what my protagonist’s parents did for a living. They didn’t play any role in the story (Jonathan Savage is a grown man, damn it!), but it seemed important for some reason. After reading the article, I realize it doesn’t matter. Who gives a damn what they do for a J-O-B? They don’t exist and neither does their non-existent child.

I think that’s what I enjoy most about writing: playing God. I enjoy creating worlds that don’t exist and populating them with people who spring from my own imagination. Who wants them to have a life outside the story I create for them? In a way, fictional characters are the best children anyone could possibly have. They do exactly what you want them to and when you’re tired of them, they just go away. Oh, and you don’t have to change their diapers or pay for them to go to college. That’s pretty awesome, too.




~ by themoderntranscendentalist on March 21, 2013.

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