When you read a story, do you walk away with the feeling that you know the character? Is she the little girl next door, or the high school Cheerleader that you envy? I finished reading a book yesterday (YA, As You Wish) and came away from it remembering a friend of mine from when I lived in Missouri as a Junior High Student. It was such a great feeling to take a walk though my memories. I applaud the author. She did what I, as a writer, strive for; that character that you can relate to or remember.
My grandson (pictured here in his grandfathers glasses and baseball cap) is a little character. His teachers tell his mother that this little four year-old is cute. He always has a funny story or says something funny that makes his teachers laugh. He gives them a reason to 'remember him.' Your characters should do the same.
From the DunMiller's Mansion series, I introduce a teen (fifteen) that has been pulled away from her childhood friends into a whole new set of kids, a new house and a new world (according to her - foreign but still a member of the fifty states) She tends to be a snot. She is rude to her mother, (teens always find someone else to blame) she refers to her brother as 'squid' and pond scum,' and just plain hates her new life. I had a judge tell me that she didn't like my character because she was unlikeable. That she was too snotty and hard on her mother. Yeah! My character showed her true innards, blemishes and all, because, realistically (and I do know this firsthand) girls are fighting the 'need to be in' phase of their life and dramatic changes are hard to understand. Sure, it really brought my score down, but at least my character came across the way I wanted her to.
The judge said that teenagers weren't like that. Say what! Every teen I've ever met, including the one I raised has their 'bitchy' moments. It's call 'woe is me,' I hate my life, why doesn't such and such like me, and then you can add a little puberty in for shading, and you've got a 'real teenager'. If you know of a sweet easy going teenager, I know a judge who will be right there with you. Please, be realistic, take a look at your niece, or the high school wantabe popular girl, I've just described a little bit about her.
Your characters should come across as the boy-next-door, but not perfect. The kid you used to play ball with. You visualize him, name him and give him quirks. i.e., constantly eating, heavy use of inappropriate words, always tossing a baseball into the air, socks that are different colors. Something that sets him a part from the tall, dark and cute category, but makes him that kid that you look for in everyone after you've finished reading the book. Barbie doesn't exist - she's a plastic doll; don't make your cheerleader the same. I'm sure there's someone in the school that the little sweetheart speaks poorly about, even while smiling.
Give your Character - character!
Observation is the invention of characters.