When browsing FictionPress (as well as many other online publishing sites), I often come across stories that have a good premise, interesting plotline—and flat characters.
Personally, I define "flat characters" as characters that are unrealistic, one-dimensional, lack a believable personality, are undeveloped, and/or fall entirely on one side or the other of various spectrums (good/evil being the main one). Basically, a flat character is a character that is mainly used as a device to further the plot, and nothing more.
I realize that characters, in essence, are plot devices—they are there to further the storyline. Nevertheless, the more fleshed-out a character is, the more powerful a plot device it can be. In fact, I believe that characters are possibly one of the most important aspects of a story.
Realistic and well fleshed-out characters can strengthen a weak plotline, while flat characters can hinder a decent story. If all the author tells us about protagonist Bob is that he's very sad and that all he does is whine and mope around the house all day, why should we, the audience, care whether Bob manages to find himself a girlfriend?
On the other hand, if the author tells us that though Bob has been suffering from major depression for the past seven years, his overall mood has somewhat improved since he started seeing his counselor once a week, and now he feels as though he's ready to go out into the world and meet the woman of his dreams—well, then, we might care a bit more about Bob. Perhaps we would even identify with him on some level.
I realize that not every minor character needs to be developed, but it is absolutely essential that at least all the main roles be given some thought.
In the following chapters, I will describe my own methods of character development by walking through the creation of a new character, explaining a few different character development exercises, and giving tips for creating more interesting and realistic characters.