In life, they say that it is not how we react to a situation as it arises that defines who we are, but rather how we respond once it has happened.
Yet, this is not just restricted to real life, for in fiction, the truly memorable characters are those that have the greatest depth, who seem, despite the setting or the novel, almost real. This is not achieved by accident, or without careful planning on the part of the author.
It is our responsibility as writers, to ensure that we deliver believable characters to our readers, and that means ensuring that they have enough depth to them; not just so that readers can relate to them, but really believe in them.
All books have a certain rhythm to them; peaks and troughs, plot points, cliffhangers, chapter / scene arc, call it what you will, we put our characters through the wringer. Whether it is mentally, emotionally, spiritually or physically, we don’t make it smooth sailing for them.
It may sound obvious, but these are not the only incidents in the book, every time we use one of these ‘moments’ we are actually creating two, but often, one gets forgotten in the rush. We put our characters through something, and they get through it, they push on and somehow come out the other side, yet immediately following that, is a second ‘peak’ that will see them change as a result of what comes after, not just as a consequence of what has occurred.
Every change in our character, is multi-layered, and it should be the same for the characters we write about.
A horrible event in our lives; the death of a loved one for example. This changes us, and would change a character, in two ways. There is the initial change that the loss brings, maybe a steely resolve shows through, hardening them (us) to life, and preparing them (us) for the rest of the journey. Yet, it doesn’t end there, we continue to change, once the loss has occurred, and they (we) have processed it, in whatever way they (we) choose to do so, the second level kicks in, and we hit another layer of change, one that we may not notice at the time, but when looking back, and it should be evident if the reader does the same, is there and clear for us to see.
The death is dealt with (the act itself, or if you will, the peak is reached), but then life is dealt with, the consequences of that event or action, and the long-term implications, are processed and adapted for / to.
I have read a lot of books and stories where the characters were very believable, until that big moment, their change was two-dimensional, and as a result, so they too became flat. It didn’t kill the story, far from it, but it certainly reduced it in some measure. The difference shall we say, between a good piece of writing, and a great one.