The narrator of my current WIP is a bit different than I am.
She’s a bisexual med student in her early twenties. I’m a heterosexual male from an IT background in my forties.
I have to give her a voice, especially since she is the narrator (she’s not the actual protagonist, not really) and that means I have to capture who she is so that it feels real, so that she doesn’t come across as fake.
That has involved a lot of research. I picked a bunch of people and read what they wrote, watched videos they created, immersed myself in them and what they thought, what they said.
I made playlists based on this character, what she listens to, what she enjoys.
I decided on foods she liked, and then I ate them.
This is not a small amount of work. There’s a lot to getting into the head of a character.
In this case, it’s also a bit strange because the character I’m getting into is basically Watson to my stories. A sidekick who acts as an entry to my world, while my MC is a different Character. My MC is someone I can identify with in many ways. Other than being female I have a decent grasp on her, she’s easier for me (much less given to emotional displays, fairly restrained, even emotionally stilted, uses her talents and charisma instead of being open and genuine…).
I’ve had to do this with most of my characters (except for Jasper from A Long Walk – he’s very, very heavily based on me, not because I wanted to do a self-insert, but because it was my first novel and I figured it would make the process easier for me).
Of course I can only do it for some characters, usually, the MC or viewpoint characters from a novel. There’s a character named Jordan in A Long Walk. He’s a character that matters, his actions are important to the plot, but he’s not fleshed out the same way. I kind of know a bit of his backstory, but not a lot. I don’t need to. He doesn’t get enough time in the spotlight for him to merit that kind of time. Any character that’s less important than Jordan doesn’t get that kind of background.
Now for one great thing about writing a series: I don’t have to do that research again for the characters I already covered. Miranda from The Strange Tales of Jenny Dark is established now. As she grows, it’s this character I know so well growing. I don’t have to devote hours and hours to figuring out her base personality. I have her down. Same with someone like Naomi from World of the Dead. She’s already had one book to establish her voice, her personality. I know how she thinks, I know how she talks, I know the little contradictions that make up her personality to such a large extent. Chad Lee from Resource Economies is the same, I know him deeply. As I work on his stories I’m working on how he changes from what he already is. I don’t have to research that, I have to write it.
So long as I know my characters well enough, it flows naturally.