Every now and again, I'll run into one of my heroes or heroines on the wall somewhere. Usually, it's well after I've already created them. There will be a thrill of recognition at seeing just that right person in just that right time period.
This happened to me in Paris when I was researching my eighth book, The Orchid Affair. I'd gone to an exhibit at the Musee Cognac Jay on Marguerite Gerard. I can't remember exactly what it was called. Something along the lines of "Marguerite Gerard: artiste en 1789". My book was set in 1804, but an important part of the back story involved my hero's dead wife, who had been an influential painter who rose to prominence during the Revolution.
And wouldn't you know it. I walked in and found a sketch of Andre, my hero, just as he must have looked in 1789. Of course, it wasn't actually Andre. In real life it was Anne-Louis Girodet-Trioson. That didn't matter. I knew who it was.
The same thing just happened to me today. I was looking through portraits of ladies from 1849, the year of my current work in progress, when I stumbled upon one that looks pretty much exactly as I imagined my heroine, from the hairstyle to the modest collar (although not the fur cuffs; my heroine's would be lace, like the collar).
And I thought, "Oh. There you are!"
It's not just me. At the wonderful Morgan Library exhibit on Jane Austen a couple of years ago, they had a letter of Austen's in which she spoke of stumbling upon Jane Bennet in a gallery. She saw the portrait and knew straightaway that it was Jane.
Do you ever encounter fictional characters out there?