I had an interesting moment the other day when a new character was introduced in the novel I was reading. Her name was Merope. I knew the name came out of Greek mythology (Merope was the name of one of Atlas' daughters), but I kept getting a flash in my mind of a bedraggled young woman with stringy black hair and a very white face. The image was so vivid, I thought it had to come from a movie.
This happens a lot. I have near-perfect recall for just about any actor I've ever seen in a movie. I've only been stumped a few times, most notably by Hugo Weaving who I saw in Priscilla - Queen of the Desert, The Lord of the Rings movies, and The Matrix and didn't recognize as the same person (largely because Weaving is one of the few actors who can change the cadence and tone of his speech from role to role - Johnny Depp can do it, too, but I've never failed to recognize him since I've loved him since his 21 Jump Street days, and he's usually the star of the movie with his name above the title). It wasn't until a friend called Weaving 'Agent Elf' that I realized I'd been completely fooled.
I usually know the names of the actors, too, not just the roles they played, and have been known to recognize dog and cat actors as well. This ability is like my super power and might lead you to believe I spend lot of time reading the tabloids or memorizing IMDB, but nothing could be further from the truth. The information just sticks. Like Crazy Glue.
This time was different, though. I didn't get the snippet of dialogue that usually helps me figure out who the actor is or the name of the movie he or she was in. Every time I saw the name 'Merope,' I got that flash of the woman's face until it hit me. It wasn't a movie. It was the sixth Harry Potter book I was remembering. Tom Riddle's mother was Merope.
When I realized that, I turned to my husband and told him I want to be able to do exactly that, create an image with words that is so vivid a reader will think they've seen it rather than read it. That's not just good writing, that's amazing writing.