When I really think about it, it’s sad.
The characters in our favorite books, movies, and television shows are not really our friends. Their journeys–the times that they’ve struggled, succeeded, tripped, and triumphed–are events that we have, at most, witnessed, rather than participated in. Those people and their adventures do not exist. They never did, they never can, and they never will. Our having experienced those events vicariously does not make them truly belong to us. No matter how genuine those stories feel to us, no matter how much time we may have “spent” with these individuals, they are all mere reflections, tricks of light and stage and pen that create the illusion of something real, even when that illusion is earnestly felt.
But we, or at least I, cannot help but feel that kind of connection to these characters and their stories. When critics talk about the world of a book feeling “lived in,” they’re underscoring that sense of truth that can pervade a work. When they talk about an emotional moment feeling “earned,” they mean that there’s been some build, some understanding between creator and audience that has been established over time, that makes a scene or a speech or a character feel real. That’s what the best works are able to do–make their audiences feel a connection to something that’s not really there.