On the way out of a Kroger after one shopping trip, I passed a man with the angelic poise of John Lithgow. He seemed more familiar as I approached him, and with the giddiness of a new crush, I realized why. Was it really him? One of my favorite characters in my new series? I studied his hair, his face, his posture, and soon found my steps leading me directly to him. He turned his head to meet my gaze and trapped me in the pure blue eyes of Henry Czerny.
I approached him short of breath, open-mouthed and ready to gasp, “It’s you!” It had to be my favorite villain, or so I believed. Although it was impossible to be true, I wanted to ask even if it meant confusing a complete stranger. I would re-enter the store with him if it meant discovering who he was.
But before I could embarrass myself, my family called to me to cross the street with them. I tore myself from the doorway and left.
He wasn’t who I hoped; I knew so without asking. It was silly of me to think so. My character’s hair has less white in it, and he wouldn’t do his own grocery shopping because he’s stinking rich. The following week, I saw the same man at Kroger in a uniform. Apparently, my villain is a supervisor. (I said nothing to him then and was relieved he didn’t recognize me.)
The funny thing is this wasn’t an odd occurrence. A few months before, I saw another of my beloved villains at work. Of course, this one didn’t look exactly as he should either, but a gal can dream. I began to watch his movements for character inspiration, and thankfully I didn’t open my big mouth and tell any of my co-workers about my enthusiasm for the potentially evil clown making copies in our library.
I know this is somewhat delusional. I know characters don’t walk around in real life. Sometimes, you consume enough of something that it’s all you see in the world. For example: when you marathon one show for a whole week, everything in your day-to-day life reminds you of that one episode or that set or a quirk of some actress. I’ve been enjoying the writing process, much to my surprise, and I’m happy to be reminded of the lovely world I’ve created. It must mean I’m doing something right.
Someday, in the near future, I’ll see another character in real life. Like the others, I’ll be struck with inconceivable adoration and may even have the balls to approach him or her or you. It will be very embarrassing and we’ll both laugh it off when I explain why I approached you. As I work more with my novel’s characters, they become more real to me. So real, it won’t seem strange that they’re no longer in my imagination. I won’t risk the chance that, in some other universe, they could be real people.
If you who are reading this recall a complete stranger looking on you with awe, that stranger was probably a writer, and that writer was probably me, and you—yes, you—are a beloved character in someone else’s imagination. (If this is true and you are one of my characters, sorry about the crap I put you through. It was needed for your personal development.)