In a professional sense, this time. Something I’ve noticed recently is the lack of professional attitude in story characters. It’s disappointing, even if I understand how much work goes into the story.
The character can’t be identifiable by a reader as a fraud, out of place/time, or using the wrong objects/words. A priest doesn’t walk around saying things that undermine the calling.
If I’m writing a character who’s a musician, I need a lot of help. I’m tone deaf, so for the character to feel real, I need to understand music. Or get someone who knows all about it to help me (this is what I usually do, because if I don’t know bass from alto …).
If I’m writing a character who’s a cook but not a chef, I need to know how ingredients go together. If it’s a chef, I need to know how they organise the menu, what’s expected of the restaurant by customers. What level of skill they have, where they got it (it influences what and how they cook – French is not Italian!).
If I’m writing about a character who drives a truck long distance, and I name a vehicle that isn’t a long-hauler …
What it all boils down to is that each character is not only unique, they have their skills and attitudes, they have jobs and professions, they belong to multiple orders within their society. Choir, church, school, etc. Each of these places has a stylistic lexicon where an outsider will get picked up as a stranger because they use the wrong words in the context.
It’s a matter of time and place, too. A fantasy may not have a pub, but they may have an inn. Historical facts play their part. Getting it right keeps the reader involved, getting it wrong not only annoys the reader (yes, I’m a reader first) it stops them getting the next story/book.
When writing these characters, I tend to simplify the lexicon, but ensure the professionalism and use of language remain true to both character and environment. Nothing like a soldier who doesn’t understand what patrol means, or back-chats a superior officer, or misuses a weapon. Or isn’t in the right uniform!
Getting it right takes effort and time and research (maybe even an interview), but it’s worth it. Be real. Be true. Be the person in the story, live their life for a moment – but to do that, there can’t be any of those places where the reader stops and says, ‘but they wouldn’t do/say that!’