The author insert is a usually loathed type of character: often associated with wish fulfillment, being a "creator's pet", or with the Mary Sue group of characters. They're flypaper for parody and bad reviews.
On the other hand, authors are frequently told to "write what you know". (Or not.) I, for example, couldn't express the feelings of someone completely different from me unless I spent years of research on the subject. That's okay.
So how do we bridge that gap in order to create a character who is from the author's heart, but without having the entire ship tilted toward it?
A character like you but different.
I developed a method for this while writing the protagonist for the book I finished last year.
Imagine every one of your decisions as a node on a game tree. Your life looks something like this:
Each rectangle in this tree is a node, meaning it’s when you make a decision to follow one of the arrows below it.
Let’s say your parents don’t visit (#1). Then it ends up being windy (#2). Then you’re rich (#3). You end up shopping.
What if, hypothetically, you could go back in time and change the weather to sunny (#2)? Then you play tennis.
You can’t do that with your real life but you can do it with a fictional character.
For a character that is (a) enough like you for you to really get into the character’s head, but (b) different enough to not be an author insert, ask yourself the following:
- What’s a major decision I’ve made in my life?
- What if I’d decided differently?
- Then who might I be now?
Run wild with it. Be as speculative as you like. What you’ll likely find is that the character sees the world the way you’d see the world if you’d chosen a different path.