Are they the full three-dimensional creations you see in your head, or have they somehow gone flat when transferred to (virtual) paper? Our dreams, our visions, always seem greater in our imaginations. So how do you bring your children to life, so that they ring true to life?
1. Remember thou art mortal…and so are your characters. Avoid the instinct to make your villains the vilest beings to ever walk the Earth, don’t make your heroes saints.
2. Look at yourself, look at others you know. Think about what went into who you are. What happiness, what heartaches, drive your daily behavior?
3. Create a character sheet, even if it’s in your head. I like to use the ones from Dungeons & Dragons™ to develop my characters. They help me keep perspective when I’m tempted to cheat and roll straight 18’s (for those of you who used to play).
4. When you’re struggling with that whole Goal Motivation Conflict thing for your heroine (or hero), consider: what would you do in a given situation? Would you panic, would you remain calm, would you have a hissy-fit and then solve the problem?
5. For your bad guys: watch a lot of real-life cop shows, detective shows, forensic shows, etc. Most programming of that sort gives a great deal of insight into what drives people to do bad things.
And last of all, remember that sometimes, an easy answer is OK. You don’t have to be ruthless when you’re torturing your characters. While we want our characters to be fully integrated individuals, not every hero needs a grim past to jade him, and not every heroine needs a childhood trauma or excessive responsibility to make her long for freedom from loneliness. It really is all right for them to be average, just as long as they are interesting and not cookie-cutters of people.
Now go and (gently) torment your characters.