I had a really odd moment of deja vu this morning. I was dreaming about something, and then I woke up like usual, chatted sleepily to the wife, and turned off the alarm. Then I REALLY woke up, sat up in bed, and noticed I had to turn off the alarm. It was a very disorienting feeling, and only a longer warm shower was able to shake me out of it.
For those who don't know the reference to The Matrix (I imagine there's gotta be somebody who has never seen the movie), the idea is that we're not really living in the reality we perceive. In The Matrix, we're actually being controlled by machines and the reality we perceive is nothing more than a intense computer-generated world piped directly into our minds. The moments of deja vu however, occur when someone changes the Matrix. For example, the masters of the Matrix realize that one of their captured subjects is becoming aware of their prison and they alter something to push that individual back in line, so to speak. Like shaking off that feeling of a sixth sense telling you something is wrong with the world.
Don't worry, I'm not under the illusion (or delusion, depending on how you look at it) that our reality is nothing more than a fabricated computer fantasy. But when you think about that type of scenario, it really takes your mind down the rabbit hole. After all, if we were all really just asleep and the whole world was nothing but a dream, how would we know? If we've grown up with this reality as our framework, how would we be able to recognize any other type of reality? Or even imagine it in any sort of a concrete and believable manner?
To tie this in to writing and characters, this is a great opportunity for characterization. Destroying a character's reality (i.e. making them aware of the Matrix) is a great way to really get to know who and what they are. Take a sheltered princess who has never been allowed to know about any world outside of her palace (or even know that it exists), and toss her out into the real (and possibly savage) world. She will either crumple into a pile or quickly learn how to survive. And in learning how to survive, we get to see how she grows and changes. She can then become a more complete character.
When was the last time you destroyed a character's reality? Did their process of coping make it easier for you to flesh them out?