More than anything readers want to identify with the characters in the book they are reading. They want to believe the characters are real, even if they live on Mars, have magical powers, or are mythical creatures.
Think of Avatar. This is a movie where most of the characters are blue and have tails, but because they love, and have a strong sense of family and home, they are relate-able.
Did you create a character profile (See: Bring Characters To Life) for all of your characters? Great! You are half-way there to developing realistic characters, but just as we are not simply defined by our appearance in the real world, don’t let your characters be, either. Just because characters live in words on a piece of paper doesn’t mean they have to be one dimensional.
The first thing a reader usually learns about a character’s appearance is his/her hair and eye color, but the more you write the more the character has to unravel for the reader. Think about your best friend. What makes him/her unique from all the other people you know?
Now think about your main character:
* Would he/she prefer coffee or tea?
* Would he/she wear a leather jacket and scuffed boots or a sweater and tennis shoes?
* What are his/her facial expressions/habits?
For instance, the main character in my book drinks gallons of black coffee and wears jeans and leather boots. She squints her eyes when she is suspicious and grinds her teeth when she is angry. As for her habits, she loves to piss people off.
To make readers feel as though the characters you conjured in your head are real, you have to believe it first. You also have to make them as complex as real people.
How your characters talk is also important. Unless you are writing a historical novel dated back during Shakespearean times, you don’t want your characters to talk in poetic riddles. Instead, have them talk as you would to your friends, but perhaps not as laid back. After all, dialogue is still writing. Be creative with your characters’ voices.
I have conversations with myself to write complex conversations between two of my characters where I play both sides to get their feelings and words right. Insane? Maybe, but I stand by that method. So, next time you are alone and writing a conversation for your book, role-play out loud. Believe me it works!
TIP: If you need a name for a character and can’t think of a good one, go for a ride and take a look at the street signs you pass. You’ll be surprised at some of the names you’ll see that’ll make great character names. When I was younger, I used street names I passed on the school bus each day for quite a few characters.