When you are lucky, your characters and their worlds make it into the published world. Often, they don't because they never made it out of the lab, their exposure was limited to your feedback crew, or your agent did her best, but the manuscript didn’t get picked up.
But those fictional worlds don’t stop existing! Once you make something up, it doesn’t go away! Not to get into creationism, but a created character is a living character! And even after you’e killed your darlings and deleted them from an active project, they live forever in character limbo (and somewhere on your hard drive … ), waiting for you to recall them, dust them off, and surface them again in another story.
Writers are often accused of living in their heads. And we likely do that more than our friends and family would prefer. But, what goes on in that head! It’s not just practice conversations about how to bring up an issue with your boss, or what you might say to a favorite celebrity if you run into her on your upcoming trip to NYC—it’s often what your fictional character would think about this or that. Kevin would love this waterfall. Mo would kill to have a baseball glove like this one. Julia would look striking in that evening gown.
More than once, I’ve had to remind myself that these are not real people. More than once, I’ve found myself in conversations with writer friends about characters from long ago efforts that got shelved years ago. More than once, I’ve been confused about whether a person who got bumped into my active thoughts was someone from my real past or someone from my fictional past.
And such confusion is definitely best left in one’s head!
I recently watched Eureka, a science fiction TV series originally screened on the SyFy network. It’s about a government-sponsored brainiac organization in a small town in Oregon conducting research on the frontiers of science. Robots, time travel, transporting, mind-melds and such rule each episode. The series has several forays into alternate realities. You don’t often see that on TV, but it’s everyday life for most writers! Alternate fictional realities rule the day. What if the protagonist had a sister instead of a brother, what if the murder victim had lived in Shanghai not Bermuda, what if you set the story in the 1950s instead of contemporary times.
Often you write out pages and pages to determine if this change makes any narrative sense, making the alternative even more alive in ink (or print or retina display). And more often than not, you experience with a number of twists on this alternative. So, later on, not only are you juggling real and fictional people in your mind, those fictional characters often have a number of alternate fictional realities!
No wonder why I sometimes feel very hungry after a good writing session. My brain has exhausted itself with all these possibilities!