I'll share a little secret with you. Most of my characters start out pretty dull and flat, like those cut out dolls you used to be able to get and paste all the different outfits on. They were pretty, but there wasn't much to them. Usually it takes time to flesh my main character out and one of the tools I've found helpful is from The Weekend Novelist. You begin by listing your character's height, weight, sex, body type, eye color, name, all the basics. Then you add things like their favorite room, the car they drive, what they wear, nervous habit, imperfections, and, most important, what they want. After that comes their back story, beginning with their date of birth and including every important experience the character has had. Lastly, you write a dream for your character, a telling dream. And Voilá! You've got yourself a character. Here's one of mine:
Evelyn Howard rose, glancing over at her daughter who stood before the Council, dressed in an outfit that would do little to elicit mercy. Although she wore a plaid skirt it was much too short, revealing long legs covered by black tights with some sort of design running along the back seam. The overlarge cashmere sweater did not hide the white tank beneath it nor the snake tattoo that curled around Arlen’s neck, winding its way down over her left shoulder. She wore her dark hair short, like a boy, bangs hanging down over coal-rimmed eyes, and a silver choker around her neck. Her arms were crossed over her chest, and she looked up sullenly at the five men who sat behind the raised curved desk. The eldest spoke.
“Do you have anything to say regarding the events culminating in the destruction of your parents’ barn?”
Arlen had known they would ask her to speak but every time she had tried to think what she would say all she saw was the barn going up in flames. She could almost smell the way the air had been fragranced with the last scents of summer and smoke from the burning hay. She could see in her mind’s eye the way the fire had grown so quickly, leaping like an acrobat, orange flames climbing like vines through the structure. And she could remember the heat of it, so hot, like hell she thought, wondering, just for an instant, what it might be like to walk into that fire and burn. But what could she say to them? How could she explain the way it had felt and how seductive the flames had been?
So, you tell me, did I succeed in writing a compelling character?