I’ve seen a lot of stories where the story was good, but the characters were flat. The protagonist is beautiful or handsome and seems to have no flaws. The antagonist is inherently evil with no redeeming qualities simply because the author needs a villain. Okay, sometimes the latter works, but usually only when you’re dealing with an entity of some type. But humans are different. We’re a psychologically messy and complex breed of animal. Even the best of us have dark sides. Geez, even the angels from the Bible have dark sides (really dark sides). After all, Lucifer was an angel before he screwed up and was cast out of Heaven.
Characters need layers. We don’t need to see every layer, but scenes should be written with those layers in mind. You want to make the characters live and breathe for the readers. You don’t have to drown us in the details, but let us inside the character’s head from time to time. After all, ninety-nine percent of the time, we’re in that character’s POV, so we’re supposed to be in their head. We’re supposed to hear the voices in their head when those voices are talking about the scene.
You know what I’m talking about. When you’re arguing with someone, you’re not just listening to what they’re saying and not reacting at all. You’re listening, and you might be thinking what a jerk this person is, or you might be in shock or disbelief this person could actually believe the words coming out of their mouth. You’re likely to be thinking of what you’re going to say next, but you’re not likely to be staring at that person and listening to what they’re saying with drool running down your chin. Your mind’s not going to be one big blank as they rant and rave and call you an ignorant idiot for the tenth time in two minutes.
So when we listen for those voices in the character’s head and we hear nothing but crickets chirping, it freezes us out. Now, if the character’s mind is wandering and they’re wondering if the pants they have on makes their butt look big, no, we don’t need to see that. Unless it somehow pertains to the scene—and I doubt that whether or not the pants make her butt look big is going to be relevant—it’s not something we need to see. If, on the other hand, she’s fighting the urge to choke him if he calls her an ignorant idiot one more time, that might be relevant (sort of like in Hancock, when Hancock tells someone to call him a certain ugly name one more time, or when Mary tells Hancock to call her crazy one more time. If these were written scenes, wouldn’t you just love to know what was going on in their heads at those moments?).
Just let us into the character’s head from time to time, show us what they’re thinking or feeling. Give us opportunities to figure out what makes them tick. Some writers think letting the readers inside the character’s head means using internal dialogue, but the same can be accomplished in narration or a combination of both. Just remember to show us instead of telling us, and make sure you don’t slow the pace of the story. Don’t drag on for three pages as your MC agonizes over all the reasons why she shouldn’t or can’t do this or that.