What Planet Are You From?

I wrote in the comments of my last post (go on, I’ll wait here until you read it), that a character has been with me since my freshman year of high school.  He simply appeared in my mind’s eye one day, fully formed.  He was young (but older than me at that time!), and armed to the teeth with sword, dagger, and throwing knives.  He grinned at me impudently, and our bad romance was born.  He’s still with me, though I know far more about him now than I did then.  He’s also become a more well-rounded human being, probably because I’ve learned a lot since my freshman year of high school.  Others have joined him, and it’s become quite the ensemble.

So, this brings me to my question:  what planet are you from, characters?  Really, this is a serious question.  How is it that you simply show up?  If I remember correctly, J.K. Rowling recounted a similar experience with Harry Potter when asked about writing.  Seriously, is there some collective unconscious just begging to be tapped?   Do we writers scream a silent call for help?  At that point, does a door swing open in our brain and our mystery date…sorry, I mean character….appears?

Do I still harbor fond feelings for character #1?  Absolutely.  He’s in some ways the star of the trilogy I’m working on.  But I still do not entirely know where he came from.  I doubt I ever will.  So, is there a planet where the aliens sit behind a console and say to each other (translated here, of course), “Hey, Joe, that writer needs a character.  Send one now.”  The other alien gurgles and replies (translated), “Sure!”  (Sound effect:  ZZZOOOTTT!)  And then the writer is plagued and tormented until they translate the character from taking up valuable real estate in their cranium.  Okay, maybe not.  Maybe this theory is scarce on scientific evidence (but I’m a writer, and my imagination can’t help running a bit wild).

But I cannot for the life of me figure out where these characters come from.  Some have similar ways of viewing life, so I figure they’re splintered pieces broken off from the template of me.  Others, however….Well.  They have interesting lives, but not ones I would want.  BUT…I guess since I get to live vicariously through them as the fly on the wall, I have all the fun and none of the pain of their choices.

So, where do these characters come from?  The seductive glimpse of the road not taken?  But what if the road is one you’ve never eyeballed to begin with?  Maybe a germ of an idea comes while overhearing a conversation at a restaurant, and it seeps into your subconscious and germinates?  Perhaps something you read nags at the back of your brain until it finally spills forth?  All of the above?  Until the answer finally reveals itself, honestly, it might just as well be another planet with annoying aliens.

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