Characterisation is a 'got him immediately' sort of thing. It's knowing
your fictional characters through and through. An ability to 'see' them
and their setting as you write about them. Be there with them, feeling
what they feel, as if each character were a real person.
Never make your characters
too anything - i.e. too nice, too nasty, too understanding, too polite -
if you do, they will become boring and unbelievable and, if characters
are unbelievable, your story will fail. Avoid stereotypes - the weird
old woman in the isolated cottage, bimbo barmaids, fussy spinsters,
vague vicars and so on. Such stereotypes simply become cardboard
cut-outs devoid of interest, and unlikely to come over as flesh and
blood people. Their fate will therefore become a matter of complete
indifference to your reader.
Let your characters have some faults. It makes them more human and
therefore easier for your reader to identify and sympathise with them.
But for your readers to care about your characters, so must you. This is why it is so vital to
understand, exactly, each character as you invent him or her. It's a bit
like having your P.C. plugged directly into someone else's mind.
Not only must you know the details of your characters lives, such as their job, age and where they live,
but also know and understand their hang-ups and foibles, their
good points and their bad ones. It's easy to assume that because you've
described characters who are active and talkative that they will be riveting.
If you create someone who throws a few spanners into the dialogue, it results in a train of reactions.
Don't overdo subsidiary characters. Let them do their thing and get off, like in a stage play. Unless they are important to the plot of a story, traffic wardens, bus drivers or shop assistants are merely pieces of the scenery. We don't need to know these extra characters have ginger hair, a
black moustache, a wife and six kids at home or loved to go hang-gliding
in his time off. These facts are not important, and have no relevance to
Aim for characters that jump off the page - something all editors long for.