People who make shit up for a living are constantly inventing other people. We invent our characters in many different ways. Sometimes they appear to us whole-cloth and fully fleshed-out (and don’t we love it when that happens–it’s like you only have to take dictation instead of fully crafting a story and building a series of people from the ground up). Other times, we cobble them together with traits we notice from the people around us (and no, sorry, that’s not “you” in the novel. Any “you” and any novel. Characters are fictional for a reason–they have to make sense. People don’t, and rarely do. Any writer will tell you that truth is stranger and a lot more random than fiction. And much less believable.).
Sometimes characters are images to us–loosely based on actors or celebrities with a certain look about them that keys into whatever we’re trying to portray. Sometimes they’re more impressions of character (sorry!) than appearance; mannerism, speech cadence, or even just hairy arms or bony knuckles (I’m a sucker for men’s hands with long fingers–don’t be pervy, now, but I could look at male hand models all day long.)
Aaaanyway…moving on. It’s a rare thing, but not outside of the realm of possibility to one day meet one of your characters. It’s happened to me twice so far, and the most recent time was just a few days ago. And by far, the person I saw was so very close to the way I’d pictured my character that I had to seriously question whether or not I’d seen the person before and unconsciously based the character on this person. I ended up skulking around, trying to get better looks without looking like someone with serious behavioral issues. Eventually I realized that the height was off, but by just about every other standard, this person could have walked off the pages I’d just been writing half an hour ago.
Freaked. Me. Out.
I realized that most of my characters were not people who’d want to meet me. I doubt they’d notice me at all–while they’re involved in world-spanning and earth-shaking adventures (even if they’re in small towns and the only earth moving is the backyard), me…not so much. I’d be part of the scenery in my own stories (sad, innit?). I also started to wonder…given the mundane nature of the place that seemed to make my encounter stand out even more, about the mundanities of our characters. This character that I “met” is someone who not only stands out in the story, but also very obviously stood out in real life, too. I got a bit of vertigo with the intersection of the larger-than-life meeting the mundane and it made me think about what, exactly, makes my characters larger than life.
The other time this happened was several years ago, when I met a person at a social event whose mannerisms reflected those of a character I was working on at the time. It didn’t shock me nearly as much as this encounter did. I don’t know if we unconsciously seek out people who reflect our characters or what, but I always have wondered if I’m not somehow quantumly calling into existence something somewhere when I write. If I ever got proof that I was…I’m not sure how I’d feel other than freaked out.
Would it freak you out to meet one of your characters in person?