Still working from Story Sense by Paul Lucey, Chapter 5: Creating Emotionally Dimensional Characters.
Per Lucey, we must imagine interesting characters before we can write them. (!) The process of imagining involves refining ordinary day dreaming until it conjures characters and settings that come to life. One should strive to create characters so intense, they come alive, break free from you as the author, and take over the story. Lucey calls this one of the joys of writing. I agree.
Imagination is like a muscle, you need to work it to grow it. No Pain, no Gain. The pain comes from the effort of trying to imagine a scene that refuses to happen in your mind. The gain is of course a scene that works. You also need imagination to know when a scene is useful or when it should be reworked or even tossed from the novel.
Lucey recommends spending as much effort on prepping the setting as you need to make the characters really live, as much detail as you need to bring the dramatic possibility to life. Research. Draw out the entire layout of a location or map of your world if that will help you fix things in reality.
There are many characters available for each role in your work. Audition them. Place them in the “empty chair” and grill them until the answers come to you. If they are who you want “cast them” in your novel, otherwise, say thanks but no thanks and move on. If you care about your creations, appreciate their problems, love their individual quirks, you will soon know them, who they are and what they can contribute to your story.
A good character needs:
-principles they are willing to defend or bend (as suits your tale)
-emotional content (are they moody, funny, sappy?)
-needs that are not being met
-psychological imperative (a reason they do what they do)
A sense of how the human mind works can really help with developing characters that function in the world you have written for them. I won’t give a psychological 101 on the spot. Go to the library. Read up a bit. (I have read or am in the process of reading several books about sociopaths and abnormal psyche for this November’s Nanowrimo.) A common theme is the blind spot. Most people have one. That place where what you want over shadows what you actually need so that you act in a self defeating manner, without seeing it.
Again I will emphasize (Lucey mentions it in passing), give your minor characters a solid base. Don’t just throw them in as foils for your main character to play off of. Nanowrimo has a list of the fifty things you should be able to answer for your main character and know so well you don’t even have to think before answering. But your minor characters deserve as much as well. Check the questionnaire out here.
I’ll leave you with this bit of gossip from Lucey, which I did invest a bit of time to check out and find it more or less accurate, or as accurate as one can be when dealing with the foibles of man. William Faulkner (yes, that Faulkner) apparently was so desperate to have been a pilot in World War I, that he pretended to be British to enlist in the Royal Flying Corps in Toronto(he was too short for the US to take him) and when the war ended before he completed his training, he still pretended to have flown and crashed, using a cane and walking with a limp. People do inexplicable things that make sense to them even if the rest of us don’t understand. As a writer it’s our job to make it understandable.