“We have created characters and animated them in the dimension of depth, revealing through them to our perturbed world that the things we have in common far outnumber and outweigh those that divide us.”
– Walt Disney
They are our link to individuals who are veined with qualities relatable to our own, yet shrouded in a layer of the remarkable. They have a fantastical dimension about them–their connection to us so intimate, yet never quite tangible.
They are the ‘what could bes’, from the created worlds of ‘what ifs’. In another place, another time, another possibility … they are us, whatever the shape, colour, or creed they don in the story they roam.
Too often, people are overtly quick to criticise, mock, or complain about a fictional character’s behaviour and/ or actions, when what they really need to do is simply be informed and accepting –even if they don’t fully understand. For example:
1. Those characters are NOT you. So of course they are not going to think the way you do.
2. In their world/ day/ situation, whatever is going on for them is going on in real-time. So while you can sit back from beyond the fourth wall and shout out the obvious to them–they can’t hear you. And more importantly, they can’t see what we can see, and may very well not know any better.
3. While they may be fictional, you can’t automatically rep them under the banner of unbelievable. Just take a look at our realty (although don’t look for too long–you’re likely to go mad). There’s more stupidity, recklessness, lack of common sense, and just plain craziness than you can use to fill up every fiction area in every library around the world. There’s also plenty of drama, angst, temper, wittiness and lack-lustre, so it’s safe to say fictional characters are allowed to have those traits, too.
4. Everyone reacts differently, even fictional characters. A different or unusual reaction should not be scrutinised as unconvincing, unless you know from personal experience all the various ways an individual could possibly react to the given circumstance/ event/ demand/ enemy/ obstacle/ argument … you get the idea. Different is usual.
5. Fictional characters are allowed to have ulterior motives, make stupid decisions, change their minds about something, have a moment of indecisiveness, or have a moment of self-doubt. Heck, they could change their mind all the time, or doubt themselves so much you want to slap them. What we see in fiction is often a reflection of what takes place in the world around us. That being said, it’s fine to not like a fictional character for various reasons; I’m pretty sure there are real people you don’t like much, either.
6. People can survive the most horrific or impossible injuries (shot in the head three times, impaled through the chest, trampled by a herd of cattle). People can also die by the smallest of mishaps (choking on a bug, hitting head on a stair, suffocating from uncontrollable laughter). Such strangeness is something to remember for when those things happen to fictional characters.
Of course, in pointing out how often people can misjudge and misinterpret characters from stories, there are legitimate criticisms to be made when the occasion calls for it. And sometimes the occasions call loud and clear.
1. A character responds to an event or another character in a way that makes no sense at all, not even to the plot advancement.
2. A normally sensible character behaves so outlandishly opposite to what any person with a working brain would behave. And the consequence ends up being something ridiculous or worse … nothing. Say what?!
3. Such-and-such, who has never hit a person in their life suddenly breaks out in super ninja moves and takes down twelve trained agents (and the story never gives a proper explanation).
4. When an injury to a character, combined with the length and times occurring in that scene, make it physically impossible for that character to still be alive (this of course excludes characters that have extraordinary abilities or some kind of supernatural effect). Whats-his-face is badly injured and losing blood; several hours and 12 litres of blood later, he is still alive, but still bleeding. Although, to be fair, when this sort of error occurs, it’s what’s called an oversight, and has nothing to do with the character’s individuality.
5. Insert your own observation of a blatantly obvious error in a fictional character’s believability.
It’s the creator’s job to make the character believable in their own right. But it’s our job as the audience and observers-from-afar, to understand that fictional characters have their uniqueness (even if we don’t like it or can’t personally relate to it), and sometimes that extra element of fanciful we are unable to fully empathise with. And from that, we should try to make sure we don’t gnash our teeth over inaccuracies that actually aren’t inaccuracies at all; just our own assessments gone awry.
So before you think to slander a fictional character in the context of pinning them as fake, unrealistic, or pure nonsense, consider that–in most situations– they are simply the image on the other side of a mirror. It just may not be your mirror.
“If you will practice being fictional for a while, you will understand that fictional characters are sometimes more real than people with bodies and heartbeats.” – Richard Bach