Quote Originally Posted by Kalyke View Post
obviously time compression and characters who exist to advance the plot are needed in some narratives-- That actually points to the author's hand-- meaning it is a "fake" version of reality. Intereesting idea.
This is a really important point that I think some less experienced writers struggle with in the effort to make their characters or plots or dialogue "realistic." Fiction isn't reality. Even the most realistic fiction you can think of is not an undistorted reflection of reality. It is a simulacrum of reality, usually constructed with the purpose of exploring some idea about the world, asserting a theme or raising questions about one, and so on. As authors we have absolute control over everything we highlight in or omit from our stories, and it's on us to use that control to make sure that the elements we choose combine to underscore whatever theme we are trying to deliver. That means we choose details and events that have thematic or metaphoric resonance, and (in the interest of conciseness and keeping the story moving) omit the ones that don't. We do this consciously but with a light enough touch that we aren't beating the reader over the head with those resonances -- because then it starts to feel contrived and unrealistic.

Example: In my favorite novel (which I happen to be rereading now for the umpteenth time) there is a marvelous scene where two characters have a conversation about love (and implicitly about sexuality) while they are trying to get a kite in the air. The kite is a powerful metaphor for several things going on in the conversation -- I won't get into the details but it operates on several levels, through its metaphor underscoring the book's larger themes, exposing truths about the characters and their present relationship, foreshadowing the future direction of the relationship, and so on. These characters could just as well have had this conversation in a donut shop, or in one of their homes, or while walking to work. Any of these choices would have been perfectly realistic. But the author chose to set the conversation in the midst of an activity that adds depth and resonance to the content of the conversation -- she made, if you will, a hyper-realistic choice, specifically choosing a setting that is as realistic as any other but adds something more than realism to the scene.

Applying that idea to the original question -- are characters superhuman -- I might say that characters are hyper-human in the way that kite scene is hyper-realistic. If the story is to be worth reading, it must excite readers in some way, whether that is through escapist fantasy, or though exploring truths about human relationships, or both! If you are writing the kind of story in which characters must have violent physical confrontations with their enemies, then must be able to take a bullet and find the strength to keep fighting, or there isn't much story. In the case of stories where the conflicts are perhaps less physical, the characters must have qualities that come into conflict in a way that is calculated and specifically chosen by the author to create a conflict that is relevant to the theme the author wants to explore. For instance, if I want to write a story about the futility of war, I do myself and my readers a disservice by choosing two random characters and setting them down in a living room to have a conversation about war. What if they agree? It might be very realistic but it isn't a story. To have a story, I have to create characters whose views about the theme are at odds, and then put them in a situation where those views are tested. And if I'm doing my job well, I am fine-tuning those characters and their situations so that everything points back to the theme in some way -- hyper-realistically.