How to create compelling characters? First, it’s by understanding that they are not perfect. They can never be perfect. And then, it’s by making them … juicy. Figuratively speaking, of course.
Consider what makes a character. Characters have goals. They have fears and secrets and desires and strange quirks and at least one memory they wish to forget.
Mark Twain said that everyone is a moon and has a dark side which he never shows to anybody. So it’s your job as the writer to figure out what that side is.
Make sure readers can empathise with your characters’ actions.
Even if they are a**holes, your characters need to have at least one redeeming point, or at least a reason for their a**holism. No one wants to read a story about a big jerk.
It is only when you have entered your character’s inner psyche that you can understand the conflicts – however small or trivial-seeming – he or she faces. You might want to approach them from these few angles:
Whether it is the fear of something abstract like death (Lord Voldemort) or concrete like spiders (Ron Weasley), your character’s fears will be the driving force for the things he or she does. How does she avoid the thing that she fears? How does she overcome it? Find the thing that your character fears, and make her face it.
Whether your character wants to save the world, or to go to Taco Bell, every bit of intent leads to action. And every bit of action helps to drive the story forward.
Does your character have a strange habit? Why that habit? What does she stick to it?
When writing Lambs for Dinner, I considered how I could make Skye stand out from other regular teenage girl. Why was I telling HER story? She feels that her father’s untimely death is her fault, so she turns to superstitions as a crutch, a sort of rule book that she could turn to in order to make sure nothing goes wrong in her life again. It’s the first thing that catches Drew’s attention, because she is so weird. It also, hopefully, makes the reader want to read on to find out more about that character’s quirk.
A secret or two makes a character juicy because we are all nosy buggers who want to know things we aren’t supposed to know. A secret also means your character will go to great lengths to guard it, and that’s where things get interesting. Dirty little secrets are meant for writers – and readers – to unearth.
Try approaching your characters from different angles, draw up a character chart for each character if necessary – whatever works for you, do it. Those guys in your head deserve the effort!