I figured I'd go back and hit a basic: Characters. How do you make them believable? Likable? Despicable? How do you make them matter? I think I'll turn to the experts on this one.
First, let's assume you have no idea what you're doing. You want to write a story with killer characters, but you don't know where to start. Holly Lisle (of course) covers this extensively in How to Think Sideways and her Create a Character Clinic. But if you're not into that, Holly did a great Blog Talk Radio episode where she goes through a (fairly lengthy but very detailed) exercise which will take you from ground zero into creating characters with need, a scene with sensory details, and conflict. Yes, it's that good. Here's the link. I recommend you download this as a podcast and pause it to do the writing parts. It took me an entire day to do the whole thing, just to warn you.
My personal recommendation is this: do not write your novel until you can breathe as your character. Do exercises, practice scenes, fill out charts, whatever you have to. But you're not ready to write your novel until you can be your character.
My own personal example:
For Shadow, the first character that lived for me wasn't my main character. It was her best friend, Lisa. I wrote out a couple of scenes between Lisa and Rachel to try and get a better feel for Rachel. One of those scenes had some nice dialogue between the two of them. Through that conversation, I was able to understand their relationship, and through that, Rachel. I really got to know Rachel and I found her through Lisa. That's when the story came alive. Incidently, that scene became the rough draft's opening scene. (That scene has been totally revamped, by the way. But the essence is still there.)
Anyway, the scene breathed because of Lisa. She doesn't play a huge role in the book, but without her, I wouldn't have given a hoot about anyone else. Lisa had needs. She was a regular teenager, but she lived in front of me.
Next Posts: Writing Characters that Have Depth and Writing Characters that Drive the Story