People want what they can’t have. Intangible beings are just one of the strongest forms of that. The result of an intense love or adoration for a fictional character, stems from well-written storytelling. Now, what is storytelling and how do we develop real feelings, for very unreal people. Most of us can say with confidence that great storytellers have a deep understanding of human motivation, as well as their psychology. Our minds have been wired to better process information or words when there are emotions involved that further the narrative, that we can personally relate to.
Thus, when we create a connection to a fictional character we are building a parasocial relationship. They are essentially one sided relationships. It is common amongst many people who desire to create bonds and connections with someone presented in video, audio, or the written word to not believe the person (s) they are investing in, do not exist in their reality. However, because it is one-sided, it makes many consumers of modern-day entertainment appreciate the type of writing that leads us to be devoted to characters that we used to fill a “void” missing in ourselves or even filling in blanks in the story. Or, people even; “self-insert” themselves as an OC into the narrative, or in fanfiction, create a “headcanon”. In some circumstances, we often perceive these characters as avatars that can alter the course of their (our) lives at any given moment. And we let ourselves live vicariously through them despite not being able to relate to everything they are experiencing.
For me personally, I get attached to fictional characters because I enjoy it as an escape. To watch or read about somebody else’s life, where I can find a thrill that I’d never experience for myself, it’s similar to feeling the rush of excitement and nerves when starting a new job, or the first day of school. Everybody has their own favourite fictional character, whether they’re in Marvel, DC, Disney, in a novel, anime, or fanfiction — we all want the same thing in the end. We want these characters to be real, we search for the same traits these characters have in the people we know in our reality.
There is a genuine emotional investment when it comes to fictional characters. This is fairly normal behaviour — it stops once people become obsessive. Being a fan and having emotions for intangible people isn’t a dangerous thing, unless it becomes obsessive. Although the character is not real, the emotions we associate with their whole creation, is. Therefore, becoming reliant on fictional characters in order to feel whole or to feel something, can often lead to feelings of loneliness. Don’t get me wrong, spending my time on them really helps me alleviate anxiety, it significantly reduces stress levels, and can even help me develop this sense of identity. The more I find myself drawn to someone on screen or on a page—I begin to notice little things about them that I see and appreciate in myself. Ultimately, we get attached to fictional characters because we know them in a way no one would. We are allowed to know them because we can.
In any relationship, it takes time to build a stable foundation of trust in each person involved. On the other hand, we know almost everything necessary to know about a character through the way they are presented, but also written. We find out more about these fictional characters in a day, than we would find out about our peers or colleagues in a couple weeks. Characters are so easy to get attached to because of the sole reason that they are open books. A good writer can get you attached to the story, but a great writer can make you forget that a character isn’t real outside of the universe they were written into. Therefore, if you find yourself spewing curse words at the ending of that novel, crying at the last scene in the movie, don’t feel embarrassed—you’re not alone.