Takeback Tuesday: fiction edition

I’ve been in Honolulu this past week with crime writers, and it’s been interesting how often politics has been the unspoken presence on a panel. Some of us are outright in our opinions, while others feel that they need to keep their opinions to themselves.

Whichever way you feel, there’s no doubt that books carry in their pages a lot of hidden truth–more so when the stories feel real. Strong characters let a reader walk in the shoes of people they wouldn’t have imagined they had anything in common with. The Guardian had an article about this recently, looking at how fictional characters become real to the reader.

Nineteen per cent of those respondents said the voices of fictional characters stayed with them even when they weren’t reading, influencing the style and tone of their thoughts – or even speaking to them directly. For some participants it was as if a character “had started to narrate my world”, while others heard characters talking, or imagined them reacting to things going on in everyday life.

So I’m wondering, just how influential fiction can be. Have you ever experienced a fictional character so real, he or she spilled over into your daily life? And if so, did something they did in the story change your mind, about a situation or a person?

Let us know, in the comments.


  1. Kelley on March 21, 2017 at 10:31 am

    Oh, yes, certainly! If I feel very attached, a character walks with me, and I see my world through their eyes (particularly historical characters). We have conversations. We enjoy just hanging out. Going for walks. Sometimes I get insights from the way I see myself through their filter.

    I was fairly isolated growing up and this was one of the ways books became “friends” and history, “real”. I have always felt I was raised as much by fiction as I was by my parents. My experiences seeing a character’s world prompted me to think about things I never would have noticed otherwise. Justice. Sex. Human Nature. Exploration and Adventure. All the things I wanted answers to were provided in a way that made me think, and think about where *I* stood in relation to the matter. Asking my busy parents was much more work and never as satisfying.

    Specifically? Sherlock Holmes introduced me to the concept that observing was powerful and enjoyable. Heinlein’s Friday introduced me to the notion that a woman can choose to use or not use her power, and that either can be done deliberately or through an oscillating sense of self worth. Also that people who are obviously amazing can have low self esteem, which meant that low self esteem doesn’t necessarily equal not amazing. Lots of others! But you get the idea.

  2. Annette Lessmann on March 21, 2017 at 10:44 am

    Lazarus Long talks in my head all the time. So does R. Daniel Olivaw. Your Sherlock Holmes has a louder voice than Doyle’s, and I often hear Professor McGonagall with Dame Maggie Smith’s voice giving advice. Interestingly, I hear Elizabeth Enright rather than than her characters, but in their words. And Mrs. Pollifax helped me through a difficult time dealing with my hubby and having to clean his wounds with her very calm “Don’t bleed for the patient. Let the patient bleed for himself.”

    • Mari Bonomi on March 21, 2017 at 3:37 pm

      Lazarus, sometimes… Jubal Harshaw always… he’s one of my best “friends” 🙂 I’ve also chatted with Mary Russell, regularly 🙂 And many of the major figures in the Colleen McCullough Rome series walked with me through my daily activities while I was immersed in those novels.

      Benni Harper from Earlene Fowler’s series was another character who became real, as though we could sit down and chat while I quilted. In fact, any well-written book or series can create that effect, since for me “well-written” means in part characters who live and breathe.

      I am very much one of those whose fictional excursions come back with me to regular life. I dream about incidents in the places and with the people about whom I am reading and/or have read. Some fictions are so vividly real that I am bemused, when I surface from them, to find myself still in my own chair in my own room.

      I’m not a big movie or TV person, but sometimes the visual world of something on video will invade my reality. Hogwarts. Middle Earth. Never, oddly, that “galaxy far, far away” never did that, though I certainly loved the movies.

  3. Sandy Thurlow on March 21, 2017 at 10:54 am

    I find myself caring about fictional characters in well-written novels as if they were my real friends. Silently thinking about them, I wonder how they are faring and what happened in their lives after the last page of the last book. Also, I wish their writer creators God speed, ease, joy and inspiration in breathing life into my fictional friends’ futures. We’re all in this together!

  4. Linda Thorsen on March 21, 2017 at 11:14 am

    Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane quite often speak in my head, as do other characters from the series (especially the Dowager Duchess). So do Gandalf and Frodo and Sam (and sometimes the ents). I am a writer (though not of fiction) and what I write is always influenced by what I’ve read most recently. So when I know I will need to write especially well, I steep myself in good writing. I go back to Lord of the Rings or Gaudy Night (or other D. L. Sayers books) or Beekeeper’s Apprentice. I’ve stopped reading certain mystery writers because I don’t want their characters talking in my head. They are not good company.

  5. Agnes on March 21, 2017 at 11:45 am

    Sure. When I visit someplace, the fictional characters who lived there or walked by a corner are often more real to me than the historical ones who actually existed. And lots of authors reset my internal monologue, sometimes not too happily. Short stories by George Saunders or Joy Williams.

    I am an academic, and sometimes I draw on Harriet Vane or the women from Gaudy Night or Mary Russell for moral support in the scholarly life.

  6. Moira Finley on March 21, 2017 at 12:14 pm

    Many characters have become a part of my life, shaping me into who I am, and I think that’s a good thing. I just finished re-reading “Locked Rooms” and there is one part in particular that I treasure, “My only sin was being a survivor. And survival, I thought, might be something I could live with.” What Mary & I survived are very different, but her resolve in learning that what happened wasn’t her fault means a lot to me. And Harry Potter, all the characters there, are a huge influence as well.

  7. susan on March 21, 2017 at 3:20 pm

    it all depends on the character and situation! i do not, for instance, ever find myself quoting Victor Frankenstein. But very often, a character offers and easy “line”….

  8. BradH on March 21, 2017 at 4:30 pm

    Bilbo Baggins was my hero. I was small for my age when I discovered The Shire, and was the constant target of two bullies. His example of quiet courage gave me the will to stand up to them one day. I have been the better for it ever since.

  9. Leslie S. Klinger on March 21, 2017 at 6:48 pm

    You guys are really weird! Next you’ll be telling me that Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell are REAL! What kind of fools would perpetrate that notion!

    • Laurie King on March 21, 2017 at 7:23 pm


    • Mer on March 23, 2017 at 6:53 am

      Yes! That is what I wanted to say. The characters in the books are as real to me as any people I have not met in person (yet), say. And I talk about their relationships and use the way they interact or deal with events that happen to them as examples to either follow, learn from, discuss. My husband is 15 years older than me, so I find Mary Russell and Holmes to be very educational!

    • GraceAnne Andreassi DeCandido on March 23, 2017 at 10:28 am

      Of course they are real.

  10. Lynn on March 21, 2017 at 7:56 pm

    Immediately following the presidential election last November, I found myself needing to get away from the news and social media. I ferreted around in my bookshelves and discovered a book that I’d found abandoned in an airport some 20 years ago, but never read: the first book in Jan Karon’s Mitford series. I fell right in love with it (such a charming little town where everyone knows and cares about each other!) and have just finished the last book of the series. Father Tim is talking in my head daily, and a soothing, healing voice he is!

  11. Widdershins on March 22, 2017 at 12:15 am

    Yoda – words of wisdom, delivered in a fabulous package.
    Thomas Covenant – always a reminder that main characters don’t have to be likeable to be memorable.
    The Baggins lads, of course – a good heart is always more useful than a golden ring – and three breakfasts-s
    Rupert the Bear – my first and only true childhood friend.

  12. KarenB on March 22, 2017 at 7:08 am

    This is an interesting discussion. It seems to be true that reading fiction increases empathy because we learn to see things from other perspectives. I know that reading has shown me lives and situations and experiences I will never know through my own life and that has enriched my life. I also know how much a series written by Mercedes Lackey meant to my daughter in her early adolescence simply because the main character was gay. So, representation matters as well. I don’t so much have conversations with characters or hear their voices as I do ponder what would they do if? and what would happen if? or if I were in that situation what would I do?

    I wonder how reading changes, or if it changes, one’s opinions on social or political issues?

  13. Megan on March 22, 2017 at 12:18 pm

    Absolutely! A primary benefit of reading is the opportunity to see things from different perspectives, so if that doesn’t change how you think about things, you’re doing it wrong. 🙂 Reading has made me aware of situations and controversies that I never knew existed, and seeing them through characters’ perspectives certainly colors my view of them. In terms of characters whose commentary works into my thoughts about matters outside of their books, my main two are Mma Ramotswe, who is always a calming influence, and Peter Grant, whose descriptions of people and places are nearly perfect for any situation.

  14. Mary Pat Miles on March 22, 2017 at 12:51 pm

    Reading has always been so important in my life. I do like series because it is easy for me to become invested in the characters and the world they inhabit. I find a book of fiction can inspire me to explore non-fiction books about a period in history. Ariana Franklin’s Mistress of the Art of Death series inspired me to read more about the Middle Ages and King Henry II. I do believe fictional characters can enable us to view the world in a different way. It is sometimes more palatable for the character to express ideas different than our own.

  15. Kathy Failla on March 22, 2017 at 2:01 pm

    Oh yes, the characters of “The Little Paris Bookshop” by Nina George have been following me around, speaking in English with an odd French accent, but the words the offer are full of comfort, life, and ideas. As these characters talk, I want to embrace their beautiful countryside of France, sunsets and all. Books and their characters inhabit our souls. The ideas and action they produce can help the world endure challenging times.

  16. Judith Johnson on March 23, 2017 at 8:31 am

    I feel very attached to characters. I read a book which embraced a character in the beginning, then killed him off in the middle, and I was so attached to him that I had a difficult time reading the rest.

  17. Mary Lou on March 23, 2017 at 10:29 am

    It used to be “What would Miles do?” from the Vorkosigan series. More often lately I’m wondering “what would Cordelia do?” from the same series.

  18. Owl on March 23, 2017 at 1:49 pm

    Different characters have lived in my head at different stages of life: Jo March, Anne Shirley, Laura Ingalls, Lazarus Long, Prof de la Paz, and Master Robinton among them. When I became a parent, Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan and Carolyn Ingalls moved in.

  19. Linda Hay on March 24, 2017 at 10:48 pm

    When I go walking on the South Downs Way, I am spoiled for choice given so many who might walk with me. Russell and/or Holmes of course, but also many characters from Rosemary Sutcliff’s historical fiction covering a few thousand years of history from the Stone Age shepherds through eighteenth century smugglers. Some days it’s Rudyard Kipling, not fictional, but writing his poem “Sussex” or the
    stories told in ” Puck of Pook’s Hill.” I especially appreciate the their sensitivity to the landscape and it’s past.
    Tiffany Aching, the young witch, from Terry Pratchett’s marvelous series also walks with me over the chalk. Now and then some of the Wee Free Men are there, mainly Rob Anybody or the Kelda. Susan Cooper’s characters in the Dark is Rising, most particularly Will Stanton, traveling the Thames Valley and Aberdyfi in Wales through hundreds of years in time, and in other worldly Cornwall also accompany me on my rambles. The Dick Francis artist character Alexander from To the Hilt hikes the Highlands with me and travels the Ridgeway near Lambourn. Time for another trip to the UK I think. So many interesting folks there reminding me not to look but to truly see.

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