One thing for sure--we humans are good at imagining.
Conclusion: Characters in fiction stories are imagined.
To admit otherwise would (probably) be saying that fiction authors are not always able to tell fact from fiction.
Are we . . . or not?
A couple of incidents related to authors I admire only increase this puzzlement. One is Marilyn Meredith, who writes about the people in a fictitious (?) California town's police department, and another series about crime-solving by Deputy Tempe Crabtree--an American Indian who understands the Indian way of seeing the world and its mysteries, but is married to a Christian Minister who challenges his wife's beliefs. Marilyn's own understanding of all the worlds and ideas that appear in her stories is fed by people she knows, and the area where she lives. I don't know if she ever thinks Tempe or members of the Rocky Bluff Police Department are borderline real, but she has said that she has to continue writing each series because she wants to find out what her characters are doing.
Carolyn Hart, a well-known cozy mystery author, also writes more than one series, and I have read in several places a report of this conversation: Carolyn's daughter went to her dad and said, "Daddy, Momma thinks those people are real!" The reply? "Oh, they are."
And, of course I know Carolyn and Marilyn to be perfectly rational individuals who fit very well into society.
But . . . . As an author, I also know I have to be "inside the skin" of each character I write into a story. For a time, as I type, I AM Carrie, Henry, or even the villain in a novel. I am thinking as Carrie, the major female protagonist in my "To Die For" series. And, whether the name is Darth Vader, Spock, Pollyanna, or Scout, I suggest, as their creators were typing, they were thinking as those people and had moved inside their worlds. Each of those worlds were locations they knew well inside their imaginations, if not in real life.
More than once I have been told that Carrie is like Radine. Hunh-unh. She is cleverer, bolder, more perceptive, not to mention more attractive than I am. But I sure enjoy being, at the least, her friend. Also, a number of readers have spoken of Carrie and Henry as if they are real. So, for a time at least, maybe they are. Perhaps, in our thoughts, they are as real as real as people we knew well who are gone from our human lives.
I am never going to make an attempt to analyze any of this, though others may do so.
What do you think?