There’s a fine line between a writer and a schizophrenic, or so my therapist says. 🙂
Moving a story from ‘okay’ to ‘engaging’ involves making the reader care about the character. There are workshops, books, and resources galore that attempt to teach an aspiring writer how to create a believable character. My favorite author, Sherrilyn Kenyon wrote a blog on a this topic. She claims it’s “magic”. I agree, in the sense that there is no formula for the “perfect” character. She nails the crucial component in compelling characters. Idiosyncrasies. Flaws. Perfection is boring and unrealistic.
One doesn’t need to take loads of psych courses as Kenyon did, but she highlights a very important aspect of character building: understanding people. A writer cannot create a character and randomly assign choices designed solely to facilitate plot. One must get to know each character in proportion to the role they play in the story. The main character is both heart and voice, and as such must make choices that make sense for the character.Otherwise, the reader feels cheated.
A fun writing activity I enjoy doing involves “interviewing” my characters. Designed to help a writer consider things from the character’s perspective, the exercise highlights the fact that one must know why people respond in certain ways before being able to formulate a persona different from their own.
For some people this means endless hours of people watching, research, and observation. The rest of us just listen to the voices in our head. 😉