When writing a novel, one of the crucial elements in addition to a damn good plot, is substantial characters that incite a range of emotions from the reader. Does the villain truly make your reader want to jump into the book and murder him his/herself? Can you laugh and cry with the lead characters? Are some of the faults so infuriating that you can identify with them all too well? Well here is my tip for creating such characters: authenticity and research.
Nothing beats good research that digs deep into the mindset of the person both on the psycho-emotional level, but also in the professional worlds. How well have you researched into the life of a police officer? A lawyer? A hunter? A chef? A fast food server? Looking it up on the internet is limited, and you will run into a lot of second, third or fourth hand information, which i think is a bit of a cop-out. Personally, I have found it very useful to interview people in the professions directly, even if you have to pay for their time. For my upcoming book, Sunset Shadows, for example, I spent hours and hours interviewing transgenders working as prostitutes, paying for their time and food! But it was the only way to get their emotions, the true stories, and the quirks of their mannerisms – and worth every penny! For Wings at Dawn, several of the characters are based on real people I know and who work directly in those fields.
One of my favourite things to do when writing a scene is to sit in a cafe or restaurant and watch the people. It is illegal to photograph them here in Germany, unless you ask their permission first and get a consent form, but I pick up a lot of details that I would otherwise not think of. There is a lovely old-style cafe in Spandau, for example, frequented by a lot of senior citizens who come in and eat alone. The movement of their hands, their blank and lonely stares, or the longing in their eyes when they see other tables with families gathered. Then there is a bakery in one of the malls where I like to sit as well and watch the frantic mothers try to bring their toddler throwing the second (or third) tantrum in an hour under control. While I was in Cologne waiting for a friend, I posed at the lost Asian tourist and sat outside the train station watching a few shady deals. You just have to be willing to take the risk, be as unassuming as possible, and be quick in writing down those details!
Long story short, it is important to network beyond the realms of authors, publishers and agents and do so on behalf of your characters.