Why do we care if the hero lives or dies? Does it matter if the heroine achieves her goal? Can the antagonist truly be a protagonist?
The one word answer to all these questions: maybe. Have you ever picked up a book, struggled through the first hundred pages, and finally returned it to the shelf? Or maybe you’ve paged through a book of which you intended to read the first chapter before bed, only to glance at the clock and realize three hours had passed? So what’s the difference between these two types of books? One possible answer, and I’d argue the most common answer, is the writing of the characters.
A well written cast of characters can instill in us all the emotions of real people. We laugh at what they find funny. We cry when something sad (or happy) happens to them. And we get scared when the serial killer has them cornered in a dark basement.
Likewise, poorly written characters seem as thin as the paper they’re written on (or nowadays the electrons they’re projected with).
So how do you write a strong character? I like to get to know my characters before I ever start writing my first draft. I fill out a profile page with all the pertinent (and some impertinent) information I can come up with. I do this for every character in my story. The main characters get more in-depth profiles, while the minor characters just get a few details. After I’ve started writing the story, scenes will require new characters I hadn’t realized earlier. I’ll stop writing the story at that point and develop the new character’s profile.
Here are some profile “questions” I use when creating characters. Depending on the particular story I may add new questions, or omit some:
Name; Age; Notable Physical Features; Hometown; Other Places Lived; Where He/She Goes To School/Work; Attitude Toward School/Work; Temperament; Family; Friends; Enemies; In A Relationship; Other Notable Relationships; Goals In Life; Major Successes/Failures; Favorite/Least Favorite Items (food, drink, games, etc); Mannerisms; Attitude Toward Men/Women; Self-esteem.
Most importantly, have fun writing your characters. They’ll be your friends. They may get you into some trouble, but they’ll always be there for you when you need them. Besides, if you don’t like your characters, neither will your readers.