1) Strength – Your characters cannot be wet noodles. They must have strong personalities and strong feelings about certain things.
2) Weakness – Nothing is worse than a perfect character. To err is human, and the only way the reader is going to identify with your character is by seeing they are just like everyone else. Flawed but lovable.
3) Communication – Your character has to be able to interact with other characters in a believable way and in such a way that reveals their characteristics to the reader. Showing instead of telling.
4) Backstory – Your character’s backstory needs to be compelling and relevant. The best characters have a backstory that enhances their appeal by revealing a further depth to their character, or showing the reader why they are flawed or have made the decisions they have. And by backstory, I mean carefully dolled out, interesting strip-tease like reveals of backstory. Not a huge big dump of backstory somewhere near the beginning (one of the other reasons I stop reading a book).
5) Internalization – When a character internalizes their feelings or thoughts, this should further layer the character, endear or alienated the reader more (depending on whether we’re talking villian or a hero) and advance the story.
6) Action – By your actions you shall be known. This is as true for fictional characters. How they act, when they act and why they act impact on the perception of them by the reader. It also makes the plot. Make sure the way a character acts is in character (or the plot will look contrived).
7) Reaction – Reaction is different to action. With action, your character is the protagonist, they create a dynamic by chosing to do something. Reaction is their response to the dynamic created by someone else. Again, to your character’s character be true.
Whew, that was quite tough. I’d love to hear who disagrees with me, or whether you’ve got another element to add to my list. I love reading great characters. For all the readers here, what trait do you most like in a fictional character?