We all know it is much easier to design a beautiful world full of amazing scenery and the possibilities of what could happen. This is because describing a possible reality is much easier than trying to capture what makes a good character come to life. When you describe a person there are strange character quirks, flaws, irrationalities and other tiny shifts that have to be included or your "person" feels cardboard or predictable. People are ANYTHING but predictable!
A really clearly drawn character will remind you of Bugs Bunny talking to the cartoonists, and being erased, or getting other cartoons erased simply because they don't agree with the plot line. They will come to life for the author well before coming to life for the reader. This is why most authors will tell you that they regularly fight with their main characters, or are so in sync with them that the main character seems to tell the author what comes next.
Characters need to be consistent but not too consistent- they may begin to evolve away from their quirks or develop new ones. This is a gradual process, however, in longer works but can be quite startling in shorter stories.
The classic mistake most mediocre authors make is creating truly great setting to plunk down their totally unbelievable charactures into. The characters are the focal point of your story; the soul of it, if you will. You should spend more time developing the character than describing the scene.
Now I don't mean you should write an opening scene in which you place a mirror in front of your main character and simply begin describing them. This can create a paper doll kind of character your reader will simply ignore. You need to have done this BEFORE you sit down to write. So, then, how DO You begin?
Start by working with a sort of person you have experience with- a common sort of person. This person is someone we've all had experience with and can easily identify with. All of the quirks and individualities will come later. For now just choose a sort of generic person on the street.
For instance: She's a short woman who dreams of being tall, willowy and graceful. She struggles with her image problems and has problems with her Mother. She loves sex toys but doesn't have much time for play with her three kids and two demanding lovers.
Write what you know! As you begin to examine your new best friend he or she will astound you with what he/she can do and be. Describe your character's physical appearance, basic beliefs and abilities, and generally how they might act in public. Do it as though you are looking at them standing in front of you. Describe them smiling, frowning, puzzled, angry, murderous...whatever fits; but do it fully. This is your 2 dimensional picture of the character. In part two we'll look at making your character more 3 dimensional and real.