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Readers love to daydream about being whisked away to their favorite fictional worlds. But we also want to meet our favorite characters; to ask them questions about their lives, to become part of their world, to know them on a personal level. Such passion has led many a reader to what we might call a “character obsession” in which you relate so heavily to or love a character so much that they feel more real than some of the people you might know in real life.
So why do we relate so heavily to fictional characters, and why do we obsess over them and daydream about them?
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We relate to them, and we want them to relate to us
The reason why urban fantasy is so popular is in part because it’s set in an urban setting like the ones we know. Urban fantasy is immediately relatable with the main characters living ordinary lives and dreaming about something more, just like all of us. But then, the unthinkable—something magical happens in their lives and they get the life we’ve always dreamed of. Suddenly they’re learning magic or venturing out on a dangerous space mission, and if we hope and think hard enough, maybe we’ll get there too.
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It’s an escape
On that note, when you’re reading a book, you want your favorite characters to win. You root for their success and when they do defeat the villain, that feels like a win for you, too, no matter what successes and failures you may be experiencing in real life. Not to mention the immersive settings of fantasy and science fiction books. Sure, fictional characters face their own challenges, but wouldn’t you much rather worry about defeating Voldemort than rent increasing? Fiction allows us to explore new ideas, settings, and even live alternate lives.
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They become like friends
If you spend enough time with someone, you know enough about them to call them your friend. You can recite funny things they’ve said, their favorite foods, and you know about their family. Every minute we spend reading a page is a few minutes with a friend, and we know everything about our fictional characters, too. That’s why we wear their quotes on T-shirts and jacket pins, and why we share their interests. If they were real, they really would be our friends.
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Fiction increases empathy
Did you know that reading books increases empathy and social intelligence? If you can see a plot playing out in your mind while you read, you’re probably empathizing with your favorite characters, so you feel like you’re right there with them. When we read, we literally have to think from someone else’s perspective. We see what they see and feel what they feel. If you’ve ever felt like someone was stabbing you in the heart when your favorite character died, you know what I mean.
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