Your characters are flat, cliché, cardboard cutouts, fake, unbelievable, and you don’t know why? What I am about to share I believe is a revelation, a revelation that helped me a lot. Keep in mind that it is much easier for me to explain how to avoid this problem, than it is for me to put it into practice. Imagine you are walking down the street, and this tall blonde struts by you like a wannabe model. Maybe she is not so wannabe, because she fits the role. She is wearing dark sunglasses, and has an expensive hand bag. Her $500 shoes really stood out to you. You have developed a first impression of this woman. Maybe it is a good impression, or a bad impression, but she is a cliché. We have seen her time and time again. She is not unique, not even in the slightest, not until we get to know her that is. This is the key. What makes this woman an individual is her personality. She could have a likeable personality or an un-likeable personality. If this female were to become our best friend, how would this take place? How do we become best friends with anyone? Think about your best friend, or a good friend. How did you become close? You got to know some of their past. They chose to share intimate past events with you. The divulged their feelings with you. How they feel about this or that. They shared secrets with you. Secrets are important. We come to trust a person that shares their deep dark secrets with us. Over time you got to know them as an individual. You learned their sense of humor, by seeing how they interact with others, and with you, and the things they say. You learned things like their favorite color, favorite animal, favorite type of movie, favorite type of food, etc. In time you have got to know your best friends, strengths, weaknesses, fears, talents, and so forth. All this is what made them an individual in your eyes. Back to the tall blonde cliché. Think of a movie you saw that had a tall blonde cliché type of person in it. I thought of the 1995 movie Clueless. At first we do not identify with such a person, because they are flat and have no life. We stereotype them. But if the movie does a good job at developing her, we will grow to love her. We need to get to know many of the things I mentioned above. But more importantly, we need to see her struggle, see her change. This is the most important thing in a story. Your main character needs to change. It is good that other characters change as well. The story it self needs to change your character. Perhaps he/she overcomes one of their fears, has their strengths tested, and so forth. It is our job as writers to show the reader the uniqueness of our characters. To show them their personalities, and reveal their secrets, fears, talents, strengths, weakness, and so forth. This is not an easy job, because we have to do it in the context of the story. We have to reveal it over time in proper context. We cannot just stop the story, and go yeah so he fears snakes. We have to show that he fears snakes in a scene. The person who wrote Indiana Jones did a good job showing the main character’s fear of snakes. We as the writers have to think of clever scenes, so that we can reveal these aspects about our characters. Think of popular characters in novels that people have grown to love. Now think of them on the surface. Guess what? On the surface they are so cliché. Take every character in the book the Stand, by Stephen King. On the surface they are cliché. But as we got to know them, we grew to love them. What about Huckleberry Finn, and Tom Sawyer. On the surface, can you get more cliché than them? They are just your typical young hillbillies. Mark Twain did a great job in revealing all the aspects I mentioned above about them. You have to reveal an important part about their personality in the very beginning of your novel or story. Mark Twain pulled this off gracefully, with the scene where Tom convinces the kids to not only paint the fence for him, but to pay him money so that they could paint the fence. This revealed so much about Tom’s personality. We learned he is playful, full of energy, and clever in a cute way. I believe the main character needs to have at least one weakness, and one strength. Her strength ought to be tested, and she ought to overcome or come to grips with her weakness. Many people love Dexter, not because he is a serial killer, and they have warped minds. They love him because he has qualities we can all relate to. He has problems we can all relate to. We know his deepest darkest secret, and no one else does. That makes us feel special. He shares his personal thoughts with us, and with no one else. With showing and not telling, with well written scenes, reveal these qualities about your character, and your readers will grow to see them as a unique individual. They will either love or hate that unique individual depending on what his qualities are. Fears Likes/dislikes Type of sense of humor Secrets Problems Struggles Weaknesses Strengths Talents Important snippets of their past Their feelings Their favorites: Movies, Food, Color, Books, etc What moves their emotions? What makes them angry, sad, happy, etc. In a novel you have more than enough time to fully develop more than one character. With a short story you do not. I try to stick to one very important past event that makes sense in the context of the story. Depending on the type of story, I choose what qualities I want to reveal. But using a weakness and strength is a good idea. Test his strength, and show how he overcomes or comes to grips with his weakness. Their weakness could be a fear of spiders that they overcome, or come to grips with. Like in the new Indiana Jones movie, he is forced to grab a snake. That must have been so hard for him, but he did it. I hope this helps. Because this is a forum post I don’t want to take the time to rewrite it, so I am sure it has grammar problems and such. If you wish to rewrite it, feel free to do so.