If the characters are real, they will tell you, as the author, the story. The story is theirs, not yours.
I will see real characters before I meet them or know their names. They'll be out there ahead of me, or making their way over to where I am. I don't know them yet, beyond thinking, "Oh, here she comes," or being aware of our approaching meeting, our sit-downs, but I see them as real, I know they are real. They are no less real to me then than after they have revealed their story. I look forward to learning their story.
They are equally real at all times and when I come to know them does not change their inherent and actual realness. That is the thing: Not that I press my lips to theirs and blow something real into them. They are real. They have life. They are life.
None of this changes if the sole character of a story is a color, a soap bubble, or a lizard. The story is the lizard's. It may have relevance--and the greatest consequence--for non-lizards, but it is the lizard's story.