Mark Twain said, "Don't say the old lady screamed. Bring her on and let her scream."
Believable characters and real emotion are the driving force behind everything that is written - whether it is fiction or nonfiction. If you don't care about the book/article/pamphlet that you're reading, odds are you aren't going to finish reading it.
Think for just a second about some of the books you've read. What are some of your favorite characters ever written about?
I'm immediately thinking about Anne of Green Gables. Anne Shirley was a character-and-a-half! She was impulsive, mischievous, nonsensical, brilliant and daydreamy all at the same time. She was such a sweet person that you couldn't help but like her and such an accident waiting to happen that you couldn't help but see what she'd get herself into next.
Or, what about Elizabeth Bennett? She was headstrong, self-reliant and logical in a society that bred flighty, irresponsible girls. She didn't want a marriage of convenience like was so popular back then, but to really fall in love.
I think we are instinctively drawn to characters that we find common interest. If you tend to be a scatterbrained person, you'll probably love scatterbrained characters. If you are a logical, calculated person, odds are that scatterbrained characters are going to drive you crazy!
So, how do we create characters that people empathize with?
Probably the best question you can ask about your character is "What do they want?"
Anne Shirley wanted to stay at Green Gables. Once she got that, she wanted everyone to be happy. She wanted things to never change and she didn't want people to grow up.
Elizabeth Bennett wanted to love someone - even if it meant living in the poor house. She wanted Jane to be happy. And she wanted her sisters to stop being so embarrassing.
What your character wants will be what drives the plot. If your character is a grouchy old man who just wants peace and quiet, what do you think the story will be about? The grouchy old man never getting peace and quiet... until the end of the story.
If you're working on a story and you've come to a screeching halt, check and see what it is your character wants. Is it believable? Is it plausible? Did they get all their desires fulfilled at the beginning of the story? Make their "Wish List" both complex and simple.
Think for a minute about what you want. Here's my list:
* Another bowl of cereal
* To have a four-day weekend instead of a three-day
* My family to be safe and happy
* To glorify God
What do you want? Now, look at your character. If your character only has simple desires, you're going to be missing that resonance in your story. If your character only has complex desires, you'll be missing the realistic essence to your story.
What does your character want? And how are they going to get it? And if you write character-driven fiction, you've just come up with your plot.
"Don't say the old lady screamed." Figure out the why. Figure out what it is she wants that she's not getting. And then, bring her on and let her wail away while you dangle that desire in front of her face.
Personally? I think that old lady just wanted Oreos for breakfast and someone told her she was old and needed to watch her cholesterol and that she should have Cheerios instead. But that's just my take on it. What's yours? :)