How characters come alive.

* Need for surprise.

In storytelling, authors need to structure a story so that every happening is a surprise for the reader, but the surprise must make the reader feel they anticipated the surprise all along (even though they didn’t think about it).  Readers cannot be manipulated.  Readers must feel led, never forced, and led only to the point at which they can make their own discovery.  All this is achieved by believable in-depth characterization, and by meticulous logic in the cause and effect of plot development.  It is this difficult-to-achieve edge that makes the literary fictional story so special—and so difficult to write.

* Avoiding stereotypes for characters.

Readers subconsciously begin to group characters in knowable boxes based on their life experiences—good or bad, likable or unlikable, smart or dumb, or moral or immoral.  Unless the author provides sufficient characterization, readers will begin to pigeonhole characters, and the characters will become clichés.  These stereotypical judgments are prevented or adjusted by the author’s ability to create a unique, in-depth, acceptable character.  When the author fails in character details, the reader’s stereotyping works against the success of the story.

*Internal Reflection.

Internal reflection is a special attribute to the written story.  The reader knows what a character thinks and feels.  Internal reflection is a powerful storytelling technique if it supports the story.  But it tends to be overused at the expense of character action, primarily because it is a way for the author—through the character—to say things important to him or her (the author) that are tangential or unrelated to story movement and theme.

How characters become credible.

* Acceptable responses.

As authors do their work well, a reader takes on a certain possession of the character.  The character in any story starts out with unlimited options on things to do and say.  But as the story progresses, these options narrow.  The reader enjoying the story will not be aware of decreasing options, but he or she will be disturbed if the character does or says something that isn’t what the reader would reasonably expect at that time in the story, and the reader’s acceptance and caring for the character is diminished.  If inappropriate character responses happen too often, the reader rejects the character and the story.

For example, Joe is a character who acts.  Readers want to feel that they weren’t exactly expecting Joe to do (or say) that, but now that he has, they can see exactly where he is coming from.  Joe is “in character.” His character.  The reader does not want to disbelieve Joe’s character. 

Joe is out of his character.  He would never do (say) that.  Not the Joe I know.