The following suggestions are ways to instill life and reality to any story.
The number of characters depends on the length and complexity of the story. A short story of 1000 words may have just two characters but a lengthy saga could sustain twenty or more characters.
Major or Minor
Major characters are those that need to be well developed. The reader should become attached to them and care about their outcome at the end of the story. Minor characters are those that play important parts but don’t appear that often. Walk-ons are those like policemen and delivery people who are there for the jobs they perform but essentially, are just part of the background.
There is nothing worse than a story where the characters are all the same. Make sure their age, sex, background, occupation etc are varied.
Names are a critical part of characterization. For example, it wouldn’t fit to call a short, thin, timid man Butch. Nor would the name Gabriella suit a feminist working as a logger. Choose names that suit the characters and make sure they are age appropriate. Dorothy is not a common name for a new born these days and you won’t find many grandpas called Callum
Each character should have their own style of speech. This can be done in several ways. The most obvious way is by using dialect but be careful not to overdo it. Just the odd word here and there will give the right effect. Also consider speech patterns – a slow drawl, a tinny tone, an abrasive laugh or suppressed anger, all reveal character.
Character can be conveyed by appearance. Sloppy characters my be unshaven or walk round with their shirt tail hanging out. A neat freak will have their hair gelled into place and a rebellious teen could have piercings and tattoos.
Everyone has habits and they are a wonderful way to deepen characterization. A person with poor personal hygiene could keep used hankies in all his pockets. A woman with OCD could peg her washing up with pegs that match the color of the clothes. Let the habit pop up until the reader starts to expect the character to behave in certain ways.
Clothing and Accessories
People are often labeled by the clothes they wear. The rich buy branded clothing, the poor shop at op-shops. The young are very fashion-conscious and old people wear crimplene and hand-knitted cardis. In movies, the crooks always drive black cars and wear black clothes. Choose appropriate clothing/houses/cars etc for characters.
The simplest way to incorporate the points above is by writing a profile for each character. List their names, ages, sexes, where they live, how they look, how they behave etc. Get to know them and although a lot of the information won’t appear in the story, the reality of their character will shine through.
Characterization is important in any story and believable characters will grab the reader and keep them turning the pages. Make sure to do the profiling before any serious writing or the result will be lacking life and reality.