As writers, we see and know our characters as clearly as if they're real people. We know what makes them laugh, what makes them angry, we know what their voices sound like, and we know what they look like.
As readers, if a writer has done a good job developing the characters in a story, we know much of the same information about their characters.
But have you ever noticed that characters don't always stay inside the story where we first met them?
On multiple occasions, I've seen a movie or read a book and thought that a particular character was just like a character from another story or movie. Sometimes, I've read about a fictional character who was just like someone I know in real life.
A few times, I've written a character... and then met them in real life.
The first time it happened, it really scared me. I mean it really, really gave me a serious case of goosebumps. I was at an open house party and met a young woman who was an absolute dead-ringer for one of my characters, and I thought 'Oh my goodness, this cannot be happening! This is terrible!'
You're probably thinking that that's kind of a strange reaction to have. In my defense, the character the woman looked like happened to be an extremely evil and terrifying sorceress. So I think I deserve a break on that one. (And, as it turned out, the lady at the open house party was neither extremely evil nor a sorceress, so it was all okay in the end.)
A few years after that, I met a man who reminded me very strongly of someone, but I couldn't think of who. I was just sure I knew him from somewhere, though. Then it dawned on me that he looked just like a character from a story idea I have on the back burner, waiting for me to get to it and write it. I dug out the notebook where I have the story idea written down and re-read the physical description of that particular character. It fit this guy to a tee. And the more I got to know him, the more and more he reminded me of my character's personality.
I catch glimpses of my other characters from time to time--singing in a choir during a televised concert, ringing little bells outside Wal-Mart at Christmas time, jogging down the sidewalk, or selling books at a home schooling convention.
There's something magical about that moment. We writers carry so many different people inside of us, and even though we know they're fictional they seem real, they feel real, they are real--to us, if not to anyone else. When we suddenly stumble upon one of them face to face, in the real world, I don't think there's any way to avoid feeling a connection to them. Our minds start screaming 'Hey, that's _____! She's right there, for real! Go talk to her!' And then we have to remind ourselves that it's not really our character--which isn't always an easy thing to do.
I know I've had to fight off the urge to whip out my notebook and start bombarding a total stranger with questions about their deepest desires and secret motivations or why they refuse to get their act together and do what needs to be done. I admit it, I've shamelessly come up with excuses to strike up conversation with someone who looks like one of my characters. I might have even dropped a casual question or two... just in case.
What about you? Have you ever met or seen any of your fictional characters face to face? How did you react to it?