Writer Meeting Their Characters

Writing is fun, but it also has its odd moments. I recently asked some of my writer friends if they meet their characters. After being side-eyed, one finally fessed up that she did. I smiled at the rest because I knew they were holding out on me—cause that’s just how my friends are. They like giving me a hard time and have me thinking I’m off my rocker. And I suppose for the non-writing world, this does seem odd. So, I’ll explain what I mean.

As I’m creating a character, that is what he/she is—a creation in my head, a piece of fiction or an image that does not exist. Sometimes, it isn’t even an image, but rather, an idea in a shapeless, faceless, voiceless form. My characters usually transpire from a concept. I wouldn’t call it a plot because it is too vague and abstract. For example, it may be something as simple as a person laughing on a porch. I’ll start thinking about the porch, the kind of furniture there. Is it in the country or city? What season is it? Is it day or night? As the scene begins to flush itself out, that’s when the character develops. What kind of person would sit on this porch? Is it a man or a woman? What is he/she wearing? What does this character physically look like? Eventually, the character is given a name, but I don’t put much stock in that. I usually change a character’s name five, six, fifteen times before I settle on one that I believe is fitting to his/her personality. Because at this stage in writing, names aren’t important, and they will come in time.

What’s interesting, though, is sometimes I will write an entire story, and I’ll have a vivid picture of this character in my mind. Then, while I’m out gallivanting around town, I will see a living, breathing, walking person who I’ve never laid eyes on previously, and that person will be the spitting image of one the characters in my mind.

That recently happened after I completed Ice Gladiators and had sent it for editing. I kid you not, I was sitting in bed, channel surfing late one night. I ran across a movie I’d never seen advertised (which isn’t all that shocking for me). The scene was of two business partners disagreeing, with one on the verge of a temper tantrum. I paused to watch the meltdown play out and determine if it would be something I’d be interested in occupying my time watching—and also to determine if I would be able to pick up on the plot since I’d missed no telling how much of the beginning. It did not take me long before I was hooked. A few scenes later, I literally stopped breathing for a second and had to blink. On the screen was my Liam Jolivet, in appearance and mannerisms. He even sounded like I thought my character would sound. It gave me a sense of deja vu. There wasn’t much off about the character on the screen and the one that imagined, other than their motivation and personalities. Well, personality is a big deal; so, allow me to clarify. Much of their personalities were the same—their easygoingness and playful nature. However, the screen character was far darker than the one I envisioned for my character of Liam. And my character was slightly more modern with a different motivation and outlook on life. So, the two characters were not replicas, but it just goes to show how real characters can become to the writers who create them.

There were no other similarities between the movie and Ice Gladiators. And honestly, this is not the first time I’ve experienced this. I’ve walked into coffee shops or looked over while waiting at a red light and have seen my characters’ doppelgängers. Rarely have I ever spoken to them. That’s really very weird, and if I have, I never deluge it. I mean, how would one work that into a conversation? Besides, it may freak the other person all the way out. Heck, it freaks me out. Plus, I wouldn’t want someone to get it twisted and believe that a character is based on him/her. As I said, in the case of my Liam character, Ice Gladiators had been submitted to the publisher for weeks prior to me seeing the movie. Not only that, I had never heard or seen the movie advertised until that night. I guess it’s no different from a screenwriter who creates a character and then the casting director finds an actor who embodies or is reminiscent of the character. It just sounds really bonkers when spoken aloud.

Now, I know some people are going to ask me what was the movie. Well, I’m not going to say because I do not want people to make comparisons between the two. I think that would only serve as a distractor to both stories. And as I said, the characters’ personalities are very different. They’re also one key physical characteristic that is different between the two as well. I would like to think of the screen character as my muse, but being that I didn’t see him first, that can’t be the case. I am slightly surprised that Liam was the character that I found, though. I would have guessed it would have been another character. But then again, I spent a great deal of time developing Liam. Although it is not seen in the story (because it didn’t have a place), he has a lengthy back history. His character is complex, and there exists a certain consistency to his behavior that makes him unpredictable. I know that sounds contradictory, but once Liam is seen in the story, it makes sense.

One of the things I frequently advise other writers when we’re having a conversation about writing is that before allowing anyone to edit, proofread, critique, or beta read is to know one’s character. I firmly believe and follow this. When a writer intricately knows his/her characters, that writer is better equipped to accept and apply critiques and criticism. That is because the writer knows what he/she wants to say and the only question is the application of how its expressed. When I saw the screen character, it made me confident that I truly heard my character’s voice and envisioned his style. I knew for certain how he should come across the pages to readers.

This brings me to another point. Some writers argue that authors should reframe from providing too much detail and allow readers to fill in details for themselves. That works for some writers, but not this chic. No, I don’t want a blank canvas or even a paint by numbers. I want the reader to see what I see. As the writer, I want to create a world that readers enter and simply enjoy. I’m not going to say there’s food on the table. I’m going to details the sights, aromas, feel, and tastes of the buffet. This does not mean I’m going to bog down a story with purple prose of useless fluff. But I’m not going to leave the reader wanting for anything, either. Since I tend to write deep point of view, the reader experiences what my main character experiences, and most people don’t exist in fill-in-the-blank environments.

If you’re a writer, have you ever seen one of your characters in real life this way? If yes, how did it feel? Where were you? What was the experience like? Have you ever discussed this experience with anyone? Were you surprised? Do you generally write characters about people you know or people you know of (e.g., actors, musicians, etc.)? Have you ever introduced yourself to a stranger who reminded you of one of your characters? Let me know your experience below by leaving a comment. I look forward to reading them.

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