Food For Thought: Fictional Characters Have Free Will

…In a limited sense.

This idea comes from an old web comic, now defunct, called 1/0. The comic is funny and I recommend the archives.

The comic has no fourth wall. By this I mean the creator and characters freely dialogue. At one point one of the characters points out to the creator, Tailsteak, that they have no free will. Tailsteak’s response was interesting.

Tailsteak claimed that they did have a limited form of  free will because he gave each character distinct traits and distinct personalities. If he, Tailsteak, decided to make a character do or say something, it had to be within the limits he created. One character was a foulmouthed talking eye named Junior (look, I did say it was a humor strip). If Tailsteak made Junior a sweet-tempered female dog with a sunny disposition, he would simply be writing an entirely different character.

So Junior has free will in the sense that Tailsteak does not have unlimited options when it comes to controlling Junior. In order for Junior’s character to remain intact, he must act in a certain way. In this sense he has some control over his own actions, despite not even actually existing. Junior, in an important way, can override the will of the creator if the actions the creator wants him to make don’t fit the things he has already established Junior as being willing to do. You’ll hear authors talk this way about characters all the time – about how a character acting in a certain way will force the author to change the plot of the story to accommodate. Listen to the language – it is the character forcing the author’s hand, not the other way around.

Food for thought. Discuss.

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6 Responses to Food For Thought: Fictional Characters Have Free Will

  1. IrishGirl says:

    You would probably enjoy Dorothy Sayers “The Mind of the Maker” for a deeper discussion of this idea (besides being a must-read essay for all writers).

    http://www.worldinvisible.com/library/dlsayers/mindofmaker/mind.c.htm

  2. The comic is funny and I recommend the archives.

    That would be great… IF YOU COULD PROVIDE A LINK! 😡

    So Junior has free will in the sense that Tailsteak does not have unlimited options when it comes to controlling Junior. In order for Junior’s character to remain intact, he must act in a certain way.

    Well it’s all free will coming from us in the same way that computer worlds coming from us is related to the physical reality God made. It will be a pale imitation, but there will be echoes and traits of the original throughout.

    Now I will also say that this is also a great example of an HONEST creator vs a DISHONEST one. Dishonest creators will strip free will from their characters and have them act however they want. Or they don’t really create real characters but merely hollow vessels to do the creator’s whim.

    Indeed I say that as I’ve written more, the “paradox” of God’s will vs free will becomes less so to me. And when you watch the stories that result from poor, bad writers who populate them with puppets, not characters, it becomes much clearer to me why God would create characters with free will no matter how much it hurt Him. It’s just a better story.

  3. Ed says:

    If I may promote my blog, I worked with this analogy starting here: http://twocatholicguys.com/existence-of-god-9

    I think most of my friends found it too esoteric, but I’d enjoy some discussion if anyone’s up for it. I’ve lately been working on converting the whole idea to a book, as an appeal to an atheist friend.

  4. I’ve heard some notes about the movie, but apparently In the Mouth of Madness is a movie exploring this topic you broach.

    And/or an examination of just how wicked a god who doesn’t allow freedom can be?

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