Really helpful advice from Janis Hubschman’s blog:
- When the story stalls, ask: what is the character thinking now? Is she thinking anything? If not, why not? Characters need to learn something about themselves, about their values and assumptions.
- Characters reveal themselves under stress. Raise the stakes. Drive the character into a tight spot. What are the psychological crutches the character relies on under pressure?
- Readers like to learn about something when they read. The details of an unusual job or hobby, the day-to-day activities of a particular place at a particular time in history, for example, draw the reader in.
- Trust the reader. Remember Hemingway’s iceberg theory: “you could omit anything if you knew you omitted it and the omitted part would strengthen the story and make people feel something more than they understood.”
- Take apart successful published stories (or the stories of writers you admire) to see how they work.
- Give the character something to do in the scene. It brings the character and the scene to life. A character soaking in the bathtub, thinking about her rotten marriage is boring. A character performing brain surgery, thinking about her rotten marriage is a different proposition.
- To gain insight into a character, consider her history: Think about what happened before the story, what tortuous path led the character to this particular moment?
- Allow the character to misinterpret another character’s words or actions. In life, we often misread a situation, jump to conclusions. Interesting things can happen when characters make presumptions or project their own hang-ups onto others.
- Let the characters connect with others. Alienated characters, the whiney and self-absorbed protagonists that blame everyone else for their predicament have lots of precedent in literature, but can hold readers at a remove.
- Build tension by slowing down a scene. Let the scene unfold moment by moment. Linger on the details. Build silences into the dialogue.