On my desk is a picture (artist’s rendering, duh) of Amaterasu, the Japanese goddess of the sun. I keep it there because it’s a cool picture, but also because, in very general appearance, it reminds me of the character Mei Li, who is the Chinese snake-devil (or snake-spirit, depending on the translation and your point of view) in the series of stories I’m working on now. So how did I get from a Japanese sun goddess to a Chinese snake-devil?
Good question, to which I do not have an answer. Different origins, different—though distantly related—cosmologies. Yet I can glance up from working and think, “Yep. That’s her.” Even though it isn’t. Yet the picture helps me connect to the character. I do not know how this works, but I think it has something to do with patterns.
I’ll take for example something not related at all, except it is. I don’t have a very good handle on time at the moment, so late every evening when I’m too ragged to write, I try to put in at least ten minutes or more guitar practice. Since I am a slow study where music is concerned, I have to spend a lot of that interval on basic things like switching chords cleanly and in time. Which is a lot easier when you grasp how different chord patterns are related, say when you realize that a G major chord and a Cadd9 are the same shape (hand held in the same position) the only difference being what strings the middle and index fingers are on.
It’s sort of like that. Amaterasu and Mei Li are not the same (obviously), but in one I see elements of the other. I have never to my knowledge based my understanding of a character’s appearance on a picture of someone else. This time I did. Because…patterns?
It’s as good an explanation as any.