Write well. Write often. Edit wisely.
Detailed books have been written about characters and how to create them. I can’t possibly include everything about fictional characters in one article. But I can provide tips for creating strong characters and for cutting uninspired ones.
Characters carry your story. Quite literally. They walk the story from scene to scene, from location to location, and from character to character. They move your story. And they’re what a reader remembers.
Characters are your story. Without them, you have events without impact. Action without meaning.
You probably know the basics (and you’re putting the rules into practice, right?):
Reveal character through action and dialogue (not direct reports)
Describe characters without using physical traits
Make characters different from one another—give them different mannerisms and voices
Give them—protagonists and antagonists—both admirable qualities and flaws
Cut out a character if another can carry his plot load
Combine characters if you have too many with bit parts
Don’t name walk-on characters—bartenders, drivers, mailmen
What else should you know about character?
They are individuals with fervent motivations and competing agendas—avoid group think. They solve problems differently from one another. Characters seem like real people, but they feel deeper and act on those feelings much more often than we do. If they didn’t, we wouldn’t want to read about them.
What can a writer do to his characters?
Make your characters 3-dimensional and unique:
Treat them cruelly—for the art, of course:
Ratchet up the cruelty:
How’s your character doing now? Need other ways to get him moving?
Use words peculiar to this character in this place at this time. Make your character’s thoughts, actions, and dialogue Story Specific.
Characters aren’t interchangeable. They can’t be dropped into a new locale or plot and remain the same.
Characters fit plot and genre and location and time period. The tighter the fit—the more threads you use to attach your character to a story—the better story you’ll create.
A cohesive and unique and singular story.
A memorable story.
A story of remarkably unique characters.