I subscribe to several writing blogs and the Writer's Digest one for today was good. Guest writer Amy Wilentz discussed how to bring characters to life in non-fiction. Some of her ideas work for fictitious characters.
Wilentz says that people consist of four things:
1. what they look like
2. where they are
3. what they say
4. what they do.
In fiction you have to add what do they want most at the start of the story, but these four work. Readers want a physical description to round out the one they create in their mind. A good writer grounds their character in the setting.
What the character says and does gets at the heart of the character. Give your characters actions such as drumming fingers on a desk, fidgeting with a phone, or twirling their hair. These details "add to the reality of the portrait you are drawing" according to Wilentz. They also provide hints of the inner character, and every person has an inner life that is active and vibrant and changeable.
Again, Wilentz is writing non-fiction, but she gives the example of a street kid who is after the MC's spare change. Why is the MC suspicious of the boy? You have to convey to readers what aspects make this kid thus so that they will see and hear and watch the boy as the MC does. Readers need to have the same reactions and understanding as the MC, allowing a full human being to emerge.
Are you bringing all your characters to life? Even the minor ones?