I often think about this. I know I've written posts about it. I keep coming back to it, the topic of characters, because every so often situations will remind me of just how important characters are. Characters wear so many hats in the story. They are the navigators who mapquest the plot, screenwriters who create the dialogue, artists who paint each scene and overall, the entertainers who hold the readers' interest.
So, assuming you agree, how much time and care do you give in creating and developing your characters? Do you give them the attention you devote to other elements of your story? After all, the plot, no matter how much action, drama, or romance it might have, will be nothing if the characters are one big yawn. Let's face it. Stiff, unemotional dialog is a bore. Characters who do what's predictable are a bore. Not exactly a page turner. Right?
What to do ... I have thought about this a lot, practiced it plenty when writing my novels, and I'll try summing up what I've learned, what works for me, at least.
1) Map out the characters -- develop a list of traits for them, think about how they might react in various situations.
2) If you struggle with number 1, think of people you know, characters from tv shows, etc. and if one matches how you would like one of your particular characters to be, develop the traits and actions from that.
3) Give each character his or her unique way of talking or acting. Maybe some particular way of phrasing his/her words, some movement or gesture that's unique, a quirky look ... anything that makes the reader take notice and keep reading!
4) Get inside their heads! Be each of your characters as they take the stage and think how they would react, what would they do. By doing this, you keep the action genuine and believable.
5) Create pictures. If you are artistic, draw pictures of your characters. Or use photos you think match them. Then, keep notes about each one -- what they are like (see #1 info), what they do, etc.
These are just a few of the tricks I use. Maybe they will be useful to you. Maybe you have other ideas you could share and post here :-) In any case, enjoy writing! The pure pleasure of creating a story is what it's all about. So, enjoy!