OCTOBER QUESTION: Have you ever slipped any of your personal information into your characters, either by accident or on purpose?
AHAHAHAHAHAHA— Yes. Both. I’m not sure it’s possible not to.
You know the stupid advice of “write what you know”? It’s trite, but stick with me here. The only thing you’re capable of writing is what you know. This includes everything you’ve experienced, everything you’ve read, everyone you’ve ever met.
It includes every emotion you’ve ever experienced, and everything you can extrapolate, based on those feelings, about situations you’ve never personally been in. That’s always there.
Then there are the things that define your experiences. The things which, maybe you’re not entirely sure you can escape enough to convincingly write outside of your own context. This is why young writers are often asked to write things like, if you’re a girl write about a guy experiencing XYZ, and vice versa — to challenge your personal context. And you have to do that if you write fiction. That’s what fiction is.
But sometimes it helps to keep some of the same building blocks. Start with what’s familiar and extrapolate from there. If your character has parents who closely resemble your own parents, you don’t have to stretch as much to figure out the dynamic your character has with them, the quirks your character might have inherited from them, the books and tv shows your character was exposed to growing up.
For example, my parents are huge nerds. I grew up watching Star Trek TNG and Voyager, the Star Trek and Star Wars movies, 2001: Space Odyssey, anything with George Clooney (because my mom has a thing for George Clooney), and the History Channel (because my dad has a thing for the History Channel). On the other hand, my partner grew up with a dad who loved watching Westerns. You know how many Westerns I’ve watched in my life? Almost zero. We both think the other had kind of a weird childhood.
I can write a character whose parents both had 9 to 5+ jobs in computers, easy. Many of my characters are huge Star Trek fans. Many of my characters are blonde and 5’5″. Many of my characters have only one, younger sibling. And many of them don’t have any of those qualities, but those are some of my defaults because, hey, it has to be something. I can build other details on top of what I know that don’t necessarily have anything to do with me, and as long as it feels organic that’s the important thing.
And… I will admit to a few self-inserts. Sort of. Some details were significantly changed and that character had her own thoughts and feelings. But the similarities did make her a hell of a lot easier to write.