In real life, we get to know people slowly through interactions and observations. While reading books, we savor the experience of getting to know characters as they respond to challenges over time.
When you’re brainstorming before writing your novel, you can summarize, analyze, and define your characters. You can also write journal entries in each character’s voice to get to know them well.
In the novel itself, avoid summarizing, analyzing, or defining characters. Instead, give us enough description to picture each one; then put them in action. Provide clues about them through behaviors, dialogue, and setting. If your main character flips off other drivers on the freeway, yells at the cashier, and there’s an alarm clock–shaped dent in her bedroom wall, we’ll know she has an anger management problem.
Show us crucial details and quirks gradually, and disclose only as much of a character’s backstory as we need at any given time. Your main character should face increasingly difficult challenges and have diverse emotional relationships that reveal her complexity. Use every detail to bring your characters to life.