People often invent characters in their heads. Whether it's a writer creating a protagonist for their novel, whether it's a character in a reverie we create in our heads, whether it's a child giving their stuffed animal a personality, we create characters in our minds all the time.
But when you stop and think about it, what do these characters really represent? They are the friends or enemies in a made-up scenario about your life. They are the protagonists and antagonists in a fictional story of your creation. They are the imaginary friends of your childhood.
When you delve deeper into it, characters are really so much more. The terrible villain in your fantasy world represents something of your own mind. It represents traits you would not want to possess, someone you would not want to be. The hero of your story has traits you would like to have, in some ways is better than you are. Perhaps they are brave while you are cowardly, patient when you would be short-tempered.
The scenarios you invent about your life have characters that represent people you would feel comfortable around, or they represent people you would dislike. Sometimes in these scenarios, you are a character rather then truly yourself, as you picture yourself as a better person than you feel you are, dealing with things better than you would in real life. The imaginary friend represents what you would like to have in a friend, someone who likes many of the same things you do, someone who comforts you when you are hurting.
Characters are more than just something we make up. They are extensions of ourselves in a way. They are what we are, what we want to be, what we would hate to be. They share some of our likes and dislikes, some of our traits, some of our beliefs. They also like what we don't, dislike what we love, have contrasts to our own personality, doubt some of what we believe in. Sometimes this goes to such an extent that we find ourselves envying our character's kindness and nobility, or repulsed at the nature of our character.
Some writers say that they begin a story, and their characters seem to take over. That's something I can understand. Characters are, in a way, just like the person who invented them, extensions of the mind that formed them. But they are also different from us in a way, because they do not share all of the same traits, do not always think the same way that we do.
So what is a character? Characters are parts of who we are, they are parts of what we wish to be, they are parts we hate to be. Characters are the mind that created them, and they are separate from the mind that created them. Characters are a series of enigmas, inspired due to a multitude of complex reasons. Simply put, characters are the essence of human nature.