There’s more to characters than just their strengths and weaknesses. It’s important to find out what your character wants – what their objectives are. You need to know what they have now, what they value, and what they want. Are they principled characters who want honour above all else, or is it all for a fistful of silver? There will be overlaps. Your characters will want things because of either their virtues or flaws, and will go to various lengths to get them.
Why are they doing what they’re doing? What motivates them? The florist wants to feel normal, so she reaches out to the businessman at the cafe, but then doesn’t want to become dependent on anyone, and so pulls away. Even your sadistic characters are doing things for a reason, even if it’s simply for enjoyment’s sake, but when it comes to world-altering consequences from a moustache-twirling Big Bad, it needs to be clear why they’re doing it. The best types of them believe they’re doing what’s right, or what’s required of them, so besides answering how they got so twisted, you need to show why they’re doing what they are.
Character growth is the other side to what’s happening, and it’s obviously an extension of what was on the previous page. Growth isn’t an arbitrary level-up, but a change in character over time. It may be that their weaknesses turn into strengths, or vice versa. This shouldn’t be a wholesale change in character, and it doesn’t even have to be one they want – they can be a stubborn as they want to, and you can still drag them while they throw tantrums, into the circle of ‘being a better person’. The other great one, is to give the virtuous a little nudge into villainy.
The one facet that needs to be clear, is that your characters are not cardboard cutouts that wait around for you to move them, but must be living, breathing bastards who mess with you and all of the other characters. It’s when you throw these principled characters into situations where they must change or fail, that you get some really special stuff happening. With one character, you have an opinion or viewpoint. With two, two. Five characters, and you may have a dozen different opinions before there’s any sort of agreement, even between those with the same goals.
Not all of your characters need wait for a consensus before they act, either.
The Short Version:
You need goals and motivations for your main/major characters. You should consider character growth, but think of it as development rather than improvement. Some characters will be rise to their challenges, and others will break.
Previous: The Players
Next: The Stage