Have you ever slipped any of your personal information into your characters, either by accident or on purpose?
What? You mean like hair color? Previous work experience? Conversations? Isn’t that what research is?
Here’s a counter-question: How do you write a story with believable characters if you DON’T?
The character is described as “loved to swim.” We are given scenes in which the character is swimming. We are given dialogue in which the character says “I love swimming.”
But you can tell it wasn’t written by a swimmer. A true swimmer. One who actually loves to swim. There’s missing descriptors: We don’t get too feel the water slip by; the air pushed through the nose at a controlled rate to keep the water out; the effortless less twist of the body to flip from front crawl to backstroke that you can’t quite describe but you just know how to do; the realization that you think differently, more relaxed yet focused when in the water.
Research will get you to a good place, and imagination can sometimes take you the rest of the way, but some things you just have to experience to really be able to get it across to the reader. A reader with a dance background can spot an author with no experience at all writing about dance.
Sometimes we give the author a pass because we can tell that they tried. Other times, not so much.
Or even more mundane window dressing:
Some of the best one-liners and situations I’ve written about actually happened to me. Genuine “no-shit-there-I-was” stories that no one believes real, but think it’s absolutely fabulous addition to a story. Turning up the radio and blasting a song made entirely of a chorus of children psychotically singing “B-I-N-G-O!” in response to the neighboring car at a stop light blaring hate rap at full volume (the look of confusion and fear on that guy’s face as he peeled away the MOMENT the light turned green is one I’ll treasure forever) is a great bit in the story that I plugged it into, and adds a little more to the characters.
And then there was the time – no shit, there I was…
Check out the Insecure Writer’s Support Group to see more writers dish about their concerns, their solutions to various problems, or just genera merinthophobia.