Characters are the vehicles in which a story moves along, right? So it’s not a stretch of our quasi-firing synapses that in order for readers to care about the story, they have to care about the characters. It’s called Character Investment, and I subscribe heavily to this because it’s what helps make a story bankable.
Plots are great; after all, it’s what drives us to turn the pages. But it’s the characters that make the plot come to life. I just rejected a manuscript I really wanted because the subject matter was wonderful, and the perspective was unique and marketable. The problem was that I couldn’t invest in the character because the author never let me know his character’s depth and breadth.
A fabulous plot is a wasted effort if I can’t get a feel for the characters. Who are they? What drives them? How do they react to confrontation or conflict? What thought processes do they encounter when trying to resolve a crisis? Are they hot heads or easy going? Do they tend to be punctual or late? What kind of books would they read? What foods do they like? Are they wine or beer drinkers? Do they have friends? What does their house look like? Their closets?
Obviously not all of these elements will be infused in the story, but I think this is a good writing exercise when developing a character. If they’re real to you, the author, then it’s easier to make them real in your story. And you definitely need to make them real in your query letter. The only flat thing in your manuscript should be the pages.