Our Fondness for Fictional Characters


There’s a strange phenomenon relating to literature, where people like you and me are becoming emotionally attached to fictional characters. Of course, this isn’t surprising. Surely, we’ve all had our moments where we’ve realized that we may feel a little too strongly about a character. However, when you actually think about the logistics of it, it’s quite odd. We real, living, breathing, flesh-and-blood humans somehow find ourselves obsessing over people who truly are nothing more than words on paper. However, the black ink that makes up these characters’ existence somehow encapsulates their entire personality.

We often use fiction as a way to escape reality, yet the characters portrayed within fiction are quite realistic. This realism is what makes fictional characters so relatable.

Keke Shearer (11) explains that, “I think we get attached to (characters) through their character development; we see how they can thrive and develop through [their] trauma, and we see that we can do the same thing.” 

It’s much more likely for us to see ourselves in a deadbeat dad just trying to live up to his daughter’s expectations than a cold, unfeeling warlord with no motivation other than the fact that the story simply needed a villain. We relate to and root for characters that remind us of ourselves. This is not to say that we won’t or can’t relate to a seemingly heartless character such as Pa from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. It just means that people are more likely to see themselves in a character with realistic traits. (Though, I’d argue that if you find yourself relating to Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights, there may be a problem there.)

From the recently coined phrase of “comfort characters” to fictional characters that we seem to crush on, our society has developed a reliance on literary figures. Luna Thomas (11) defines comfort characters as “a character that just makes you feel safer or happier when you might be feeling anxious or upset.” Whether that’s seeing them, reading about them, talking about them, or just thinking about that character, we’re given a sense of calm when we are reminded of a person we care about—even if that person doesn’t really exist.

For example, a couple of my comfort characters from literature happen to be Ishmael and Queequeg from Moby-Dick. I doodle them in the margins of my paper when I’m stressed, and seeing them or reading about them helps cheer me up when I feel down. Don’t worry; I’m just as guilty as you are when it comes to obsessing over fictional characters. Have you heard my rants about Moby-Dick? I bought an entire biography on Melville after reading it!

Another word that’s been rising in popularity has been the notion of “kinning” characters. Luna also provides a lovely definition of “kinning” for us. She says, “A kin is just a character that you really relate to, normally because you share a lot of similar personality traits.”

Some find it shameful to relate to fictional characters, but in my opinion, you can’t get any worse than me kinning Holden Caulfield, Jane Eyre, and Ishmael all at the same time. So, don’t feel bad for relating to fictional characters. (Unless it’s Heathcliff. He can stay in the fictional world.)

There’s nothing wrong with caring about fictional characters. We’re supposed to learn from them and use their actions as a basis for our own—whether we choose to mirror them or do the opposite. Literature allows us to learn about the world around us from different perspectives. When we find ourselves relating to or looking up to fictional characters, we gain access to their worldview, and in turn, our own worldview alters slightly to match theirs. 

The next time you find yourself relating to or becoming emotionally affected by a fictional character, ask yourself why. You may learn something about yourself.