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I was having a discussion over coffee with an aspiring author friend of mine and we had an interestingly productive but annoying argument about in-novel crushes.

He said that he had never had romantic feelings for a character in a novel and that he never would because that would be technically impossible. That you can't fancy a character that you can't see and because they aren't real.

I strongly objected to this for many reasons (which I listed until he rolled his eyes and conceded the point out of boredom) and personally have fallen in love with fictional characters many times, perhaps more intensely than real people. I have had romantic crushes on fictional characters and have a weakness for omnipotent alpha males, vampires, werewolves and all sorts of impossible-don't-exist-in-real-life types. Mostly strong, dark and troubled characters. Pretty classic really.

Is it really different for men and women? Do men ever fall in love with characters from novels? If men fall in love with fictional characters, what examples are there? I can't think of a single case.

Note: I mean "fall in love" in the form of romantic, sensual or desirable, not "fall in love" in the sense of "really liking the character and being upset if they die, or "fall in love" in the sense that "I really love the new iPhone"

  • We try to keep to one question per post. Your questions are fairly different. Please break these into individual posts. – Lauren-Reinstate-Monica-Ipsum Jan 8 '17 at 13:29
  • Okay, I can split into requests for guidance vs request for examples? – Bella Pines Jan 8 '17 at 13:32
  • You have four questions. I'd probably Google the first one a bit more and make 2, 3, and 4 their own posts. – Lauren-Reinstate-Monica-Ipsum Jan 8 '17 at 13:35
  • Thanks! Working on it. Also helps clarify my problem. My ultimate aim being to write a character that people have an emotional response to. So far I've achieved boring, flat, technically accurate and uninteresting. – Bella Pines Jan 8 '17 at 13:45
  • Erotic is a biological response, not an emotional one. – user16226 Jan 8 '17 at 14:08
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Can men fall in love with characters in novels? Of course they can.

Men and women fall in love with fictional characters of all kind. Think of the teen girl pining after a boy group, or the teen boy pining after a Playboy centerfold. Both are "in love" with – that is, they feel romantic and sexual interest for – a fiction. Because, of course, those media images are not real people, but a fiction created exactly for that purpose: that teen girls and boys fall in love with them.

There is some gender bias in what kind of fictitious character men and women fall in love with, with men preferring visual depictions of sexy women and women preferring narrative deptictions of strong, successful, and able men. Because of that preferrence, men fall in love more with characters in visual media, while women are more susceptible to literary characters (Shades of Grey) and celebrities (such as movie and music stars).

But not all men (nor women) are the same, and just as there are women who consume visual pornography, there are men who like to read, and some of them fall in love with characters in novels. I am an example of those.

During puberty, I very much wanted a girlfriend, but did not have the courage to approach any girl. I was so afraid of being rejected, that my default type of "relationship" became pining for girls from afar. I spent long afternoons imagining stories of how I would get to know and then interact with the girl I had a crush on. Those were stories similar to what I read: adventure stories, mostly, in the vein of Edith Blyton's Famous Five. In my daydreaming, I was the boy with the dangerous secret, and somehow that secret got me together with the girl – although my imangination never managed to go that far.

When I was around fourteen or fifteen, I began to read the novels of C. J. Cherryh. If you are familiar with the work of that author you will know that her early novels are full of some subliminal erotic or romantic tension that never leads to any kind of relationship and is in fact never named by the author or voiced by her characters. Then, in the Morgaine cycle, it becomes the overt structure of the narrative: the male protagonist falls in love with the elf-like warrior woman who forces him to serve as her knight. At first he serves her, because he must, but later, after she would have set him free, he continues to serve her out of love. A love that she does not feel and does not answer.

That relationship was such an exact image of what I felt for the girls in my life, that I fell in love with Morgaine, the female lead of the novels. And with her author, in turn. At that time I knew nothing about C. J. Cherryh, except that her name indicated a woman. I had never read an interview with her or seen a photograph of her. But I felt for her something of what I felt through her writing. Eventually I wrote a letter to her – that was before email, so I wrote on paper and by hand –, and actually received a very kind and friendly reply (which, although I didn't voice my feelings and she didn't address them, healed me of my crush – probably because her answer made me realize that she was actually a person apart from myself).

I still have the Morgaine novels in my shelf, but haven't read them in about thirty years. Today, I find the kind of relationship they depict self-abusive and prefer women who are approachable, both by being physically present and through their open behaviour. Nevertheless, when I look at those books, I still feel an echo of my past desire.

I have also had vague crushes on almost every female protagonist or love interest in all the books I have read. In fact, I would go so far as to say that any man who reads erotic or romantic stories, feels something erotic or romantic for the female characters in those novels. If he didn't feel sexual desire or romantic interest for those characters, he wouldn't read that kind of book. Because that is the purpose of reading fiction: to experience what the protagonists experience.

  • Fantastic, so it IS possible to write a female equivalent of Edward Cullen, just not common. This is the 2nd example I've heard of, another being from an Italian detective series called Inspector Montalbano. Apparently a rally driver called Erica was date-able, leaving lingering feelings and memories as if the reader had "experienced what the protagonist experienced". So it's possible, just difficult. – Bella Pines Jan 9 '17 at 14:09
  • @IsobellaPines I believe it is not difficult at all. Maybe it doesn't happen so often because fewer men read novels compared to women, and men often prefer action, crime, or science fiction novels that don't have a love story. But if you compare only those men that read stories with a romantic level to those women who read that kind of story, I'm sure the numbers of readers who develop a (passing) crush are quite similar. And I'm sure there are millions of male teens who strongly desire Lara Croft. So while girls read, boys play computer games, and develop feelings for the characters in these. – user5645 Jan 9 '17 at 14:14
  • "That is the purpose of reading fiction: to experience what the protagonists experience." I strongly disagree. That is just one purpose for reading fiction. Also, it's missing the word "vicariously." But it's still just one purpose out of many. – Wildcard Nov 6 '18 at 21:37
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I tend to think of the process of writing a novel as follows: Invent a bunch of characters. Spend time with them until you fall in love. Then torture them to the brink of madness. The redeem or condemn them as you choose.

It seems to me very difficult to read The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe without falling in love with Lucy, LOTR without falling in love with Sam, Brideshead Revisited without falling in love with Sebastian, or The Power and the Glory without falling in love with the whiskey priest. Love seems indispensible from full engagement with these characters and their stories.

But you seem to be talking about something different. You seen to be talking about romantic love, and perhaps more specifically about erotic love. And on that score I am not so sure. Erotic love inherently seeks a consummation that no page can provide. (Mere pronography evokes lust at best.) Clearly one can crush on an actor or actress in a movie or TV show, but can one similarly crush on a character on the page? I'm not convinced. I think our love for characters is closer to friendship than to eros.

EDIT: Since the question has been edited significantly since I wrote the above answer, I will add this. The erotic impulse is founded in the lower brain's assessment of reproductive fitness. Men and women play very different roles in reproduction, and thus they look at very different qualities in making a reproductive assessment. The male assessment is clearly far more visual than the female. But also, the male satisfaction is far more fleeting than the female. The female assessment of reproductive fitness seeks a mate who will protect and provide for the young. Constancy is part of fantasy for the female in a way it is not for the male.

Also, males assess other males, and females assess other females, as potential reproductive rivals. So men and women are naturally repelled by each other's pornography.

This is at the biological level, of course. Our responses are quite different at the social level. But the pornographic and quasi-pornographic is pitched to the biological response. And therein lies the difference between Pride and Prejudice and 50 Shades of Gray.

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    So you genuinely think that all the female adoration of Edward Cullen from Twilight and his cheeseball BDSM knockoff Christian Grey is "friendship"? Not to mention generations of readers of Mr. Darcy? – Lauren-Reinstate-Monica-Ipsum Jan 8 '17 at 14:17
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    And Lauren, spot on. – Bella Pines Jan 8 '17 at 14:21
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    @LaurenIpsum No, I think it is pornographic lust. Which is to say, an erotic response to a wholly unrealistic object. This does appear to work quite differently in men and women. I do find it interesting that women's taste in pornography is considered somewhat more respectable than men's. Not entirely respectable, to be sure, but Twilight seems to be a lot less frowned upon than Playboy. – user16226 Jan 8 '17 at 14:29
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    Which, now I think about it, is very much on point if the intent is to write such a character. Because any form of pornography that does not have a pornographic effect on you is crushingly boring, if not actively repellant. We are as strongly repelled from any erotic object that we don't want as we are attracted to any erotic object we do want (which makes perfect biological sense). – user16226 Jan 8 '17 at 14:33
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    Isn't all literature lay psychology? It was the job of the poet to plumb the depths of the human heart long before Freud. And indeed, aren't all questions about what works or does not work in a story questions of psychology? What's more, literature as a exploration of psychology has real experimental value, in that a story succeeds or fails based on its wisdom about the human condition as measured by how deeply and affectionately reader's respond to it. And far more people, I would suggest, turn to stories than to shrinks to make sense of their lives. – user16226 Jan 8 '17 at 16:20
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I have written lots of sexy/romance/erotica stories, and I have created lots of compelling female characters that I have fallen in love with (and hate with, etc). I think many of my readers have done so too. This is a genre that generally begs for such a response -- and it's challenging to make a character within that genre who is not a cliche or stereotype.

In the last 30 or so years I think people are more inclined to fall in love with a TV or movie character than a character from a book. (The last book character I have fallen in love is Scarlett O'Hara!). In today's world, literary works tend to appeal more to people's intellectual side than to their emotional side.

Let me add that I WISH I fell in love with more female characters I read about. But I tend to read very odd things.

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    The 3 examples I have of men falling in love with fictional characters are Scarlett, Erica and Morgaine (above). All quite charming, determined, strong and manipulative characters. Is forceful and manipulative attractive to men, just like forceful and domineering and is an unintentional force of attraction for women? – Bella Pines Jan 9 '17 at 14:11
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    Oh, I don't know about that. This may be more of a reflection of things we have been reading than a statement about strong characters. Another thing. I think readers tend to fall in love with vivid/complex characters; therefore a book would need to be less about plot, more about character and expressiveness. Which reminds me: I need to read more novels with female protagonists! – idiotprogrammer Jan 10 '17 at 15:09
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The good-girl-bad-boy thing has always bothered me philosophically. Yet, this scenario fulfills itself endlessly in real life. Perhaps it is a benefit to the OP she exercises this part of her psychology in a fantasy as opposed to an abusive relationship.

Men have other problems. Don't get me wromg, there's lots of other problems. Chief among them is the over-reliance on comeliness to develop global feelings of love.

One of the curiosities many people have is if there is a difference between "love" and "in love with ," and where desire fits into the equation.

I love lots of characters, think about them, even dream about them. But I've never felt desire or lust, even after spending dozens of hours (or hundreds of hours in my own work). I don't think I'm special--a pretty average dude, actually.

I've avoided porn for several years now for my own reasons, but there was no question of images producing desire and lust.

So, is it Men Are From Mars, and Women Are From Venus? Does attraction and desire follow love or in-love more often in one gender? What about the inverse: Does love or in-love follow attraction and desire more often in one gender?

I don't have these sociological answers for you. However, I can tell you women purchase 90% of the print books listed as Romance in the US. I'm not sure what conclusion I can globally draw from this. But I (personally) agree with your friend: Dudes may love characters from their books, but they don't love their characters. I'm sure there are plenty of exceptions.

  • Not plenty! So far, per above, there is 3! – Bella Pines Jan 9 '17 at 14:15
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I'm not sure about 'falling in love', but as a teenager I used to eagerly anticipate any mention of Elayne in the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. I was definitely infatuated with her character, especially when written from the perspective of other characters (so you could see her cutesy mannerisms).

A gorgeous, young, intelligent mage who just happens to be a beloved princess and a passionate redhead to boot!? She was expertly designed to be incredibly attractive to males of my age group.

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Although the question may refer to writing, I recall Lara Croft winning a magazine poll of the world's sexiest women. The poll was conducted before the release of the Tomb Raider film so they were not voting for Angelina Jolie. Croft was omitted from the published listing because she wasn't real.

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I agree that it is possible to fall in love with female characters. I have on several occasions including that of shows. It isn't that I want THAT particular character, it's that I see many traits in the character I really want in a partner. This manifested with the right given personality makes it easy to fall for. Just like with everything else, not all personality and traits are appealing to everyone.

As you stated in OP, some people simply don't because they can't justify why someone can fall in love with something fake. Just like some people don't like long distance relationships because there is a lack of physical element to it even if the conversations and the person is real.

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