Creating interesting characters is key. Interesting characters have goals, are active in the story, and develop/learn along the way. With characters that have depth, readers will want to know more about them and, in essence, the story itself.
(This is the main info on character Goals—all articles should link here instead of re-explaining it.)
Every character should have goals (or wants/needs). Aaron Sorkin has said the audience must also want it for them. With a morally good character (such as a hero-type, or even anti-hero type) you will want the readers to support the character. With a morally bad character (villian-type or some anti-hero types) it is harder to convince the reader to also want the character to suceed, but it can be done.
Characters who have goals, and actively set out to get them, are some of the strongest characters.
These goals last for the majority of the story, or (if the story spans longer than a few years) an extended period of time. These can be very large (such as taking back the throne in a war-torn kingdom) or simply very hard to get/accomplish (falling in love). Generally one or two is all that a character really needs to have, since a character with too many long-term goals will be too busy trying to achieve them to be able to focus on other things.
These are smaller scene by scene goals. These goals should also have conflict, either internal or external.
When they achieve/fail the goals, it should educate/develop the character, and form a new goal to begin the next scene or goal.
Short-term goals stacked on top of one another make up the plot.
- A prisoner wants to rescue his/her daughter (long-term goal). The short-term goals could be "escape the prison, evade the guards, find a vehicle, get home" before the long-term goal is achieved.
Active, not Passive
(This is the main info on active/passive protagonists—all articles should link here instead of re-explaining it.)
Your protagonist must be directly involved in causing the plot to unfold. Their decisions (based on goals or wishes) should send the plot in new directions.
A passive protagonist will kill a story. They will sit and watch the plot unfold but won't contribute to it. Characters will fall in love with them because the plot deems it so, instead of the protagonist affecting it. A reader will not feel this character is deserving of anything or is just not involved enough to be worth reading about.
Coincidence can create a passive protagonist if they don't react to it in a forward way. It creates a "victim" protagonist. Lets say a house is blown down by a tornado—the protagonist should have a goal to fix it up or do something to stop them being passive. Coincidence can also be used to benefit a story, but should be used a minimal amount of times (unless a character is extremely lucky or the coincidence turns out to be planned).
(This is the main info on character Change—all articles should link here instead of re-explaining it.)
Good characters usually change in some way over the course of a novel. There are a few different ways:
- Start normal/nice and becomes a monster—see Michael Corleone
- Start as monster and become normal/normal—think Scrooge
- Never change as a person, but what they are capable of is revealed—see Tom Stall, Rupert Pupkin
These are not the only ways a character can change. Some characters will change goals, morals, friends, foes, and even personalities. If a story spans a long enough time then change is to be expected and all characters should change at least a little from the start to the end of a story.
A good protagonist should have an "easy to recognize" attitude. You need something that defines them and makes them unique and easy to tell apart from others. Have something to make the reader love the character even more or, occasionally, to make a reader hate the character, if that's your goal.
Sometimes characters with similar attitudes can also go well together; on the other hand, characters with different attitudes can create drama.
- Angry at the world
A character's emotions should help the reader to better understand the character. When the reader can understand the character (depending on how good the writer is) they are able to feel that character's emotions and imagine the pain, happiness, grief, anger, etc.
Nobody likes a picture-perfect character. All characters should have some faults. They don't need to be deadly but something to remind a reader that this character is real. Common faults are egotistical, aggressive, naive, or oblivious. Faults can also include fears, which are good to help create realism and help with the plot (such as a character needing to overcome a specific fear to reach a goal).