How to Find out If You’re a Gollum (or, On Meeting Your Characters in Real Life)

One of my favorite movies of all time is Stranger Than Fiction. While I could cite all of the usual reasons for liking a film, the primary reason is because it took a question I’ve always had as a writer and brought it to life: What if our characters really are real?

(As a side note, I remember this movie coming out as I was on the edge of adulthood. Now I realize it’s been ten years. Approaching 30 is a different world, but I like it.)

For most of my life, it’s been a passing question. However, writing mostly fantasy and sci-fi meant that the situations I wrote about weren’t based in the world we know so I didn’t think much about it. Even coming across someone with the same name as a character was rare for quite a while thanks to my love of obscure names.

I do remember the first time, though, that I met someone with a character’s name. While I was volunteering with the kids at my church, I met someone named Kelvin — the name of the prince in the novel I’ve been working on since middle school. Since I was in 9th grade at most, I wasn’t far enough into science to know that kelvins are a unit of measurement named after someone. As far as I knew, it was quite obscure. Hearing that name said aloud by someone other than me was a strange experience.

Later in high school, I read in a biography that Tolkien wondered about having the same experience: receiving a letter from an S. Gamgee or, worse, meeting Gollum. Evidently, I’m not the only one who’s ever thought about it. (Of course, that was later confirmed by Strange Than Fiction itself.)

Which leads me to a post that I recently read on Facebook about how to tell if you’re in one of Tolkien’s books. (Apologies for one part with strong language. I don’t think Tolkien would approve either.)

As much as I’ve thought about whether or not my characters were real, I never thought much about being in someone else’s story quite like this. Maybe I am a lost Tolkien character after all.

Have you ever met someone with one of your characters’ names? Do you ever wonder what it’d be like if your characters and the worlds you create were real? Are you secretly a Tolkien character?

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4 responses to “How to Find out If You’re a Gollum (or, On Meeting Your Characters in Real Life)

  • Anthony Lee Collins

    My characters have fairly normal names — first names at least.And in some cases I’ve taken the names from real people (I still remember what Vicki looked like — the Vicki that my character is named after — and I haven’t seen her in around 40 years).

    My two longest-running characters have last names that I picked from the phone book, and I will be a bit taken aback if I meet somebody named diGregorio or Stiglianese, since those are unusual names.

    I did see one of my characters once, on the subway, and it was unnerving. I think it was mostly unnerving because that character has murdered between 50 and 75 people.

  • Rebekah Loper

    It’s funny, because when people ask me how I get my story ideas, I’ve always said “I don’t. The characters tell me their stories.” To me, they are real – I’m merely their chosen scribe.

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