I finally finished reading a book that took me months to complete, when I usually sit down and finish something in a few days. The biggest reason for my apathy was the main character. I didn't connect with her and thought at first it was because she was underdeveloped. But that wasn't quite it. It was mostly because I found her somewhat, blah. For a character to carry a novel, she has to be both interesting and real. I felt this character did neither.
Characters need a history
My characters generally have a rich history because I will write one hundred pages of a manuscript and decide I started it too soon. I start an entirely new draft at a later place but still, I have all that content from before that I can sprinkle in as backstory.
A female character going on her first date in two years is much more interesting when you can flashback to her last date, where she accidentally lit the waiter on fire and her dress tore down the middle. Tossing that in as she approaches the restaurant tells you, the reader, that she is obviously nervous and you continue reading to see if date number two is as disastrous. You probably also expect this character to be somewhat clumsy and awkward, all of which is displayed through one single story.
I feel how characters react to situations reveals more about their personality than anything else, and this is where show don't tell plays a huge role. Take our dating disaster character from above. Knowing a bit of her history, how do you think she would react when her new date orders chocolate flambe for dessert?
The book I recently read was also one of those told from first person from two characters who switch back and forth which seems to be a growing trend that I think could be cool except that often it's hard to decipher which one is narrating. Different people see things in different ways and describe them in different ways. Our dating disaster might see the chocolate flambe making its way to her table and decribe it as, "a flaming dessert from Hell." Now lets change her into a pyromanic who might look at it and say, "chocolate tickled in orange, blue and gold flames. It was mesmerizing."
I read a blog post from http://www.kidlit.com/ (I tried to find the post and couldn't) but she made a point on one of her posts that has really stuck with me. People are selfish. As I'm writing, I constantly repeat this to myself and try to think about what each one of my characters wants. Even a self-sacrficing person is that way because she wants to be. Maybe she has low self esteem and tries to make friends by pleasing everyone, or she has a wicked past and wants to make amends for it. The reactions might be the same but the motive behind those actions is what defines a character and makes them human.
What about you? Do you have any other suggestions for character development?