Thinking through the emotional make up of characters can fix this problem, and provide fodder for subplots and twists along the way. It also can help with foreshadowing and believability.
I’ve read too many books where a character suddenly does something for no other reason than to move the plot along. Certainly that character wouldn’t behave that way on their own.
So I’ve been thinking through the emotional make up of my cast of characters, especially some of the minor ones. This involves thinking about what they love, hate and fear, as well as their goals, obstacles in their way, and secrets.
Tarkio is one of my major characters. He’s a trader whose goal is to be successful in his marriage and his profession. At the beginning of the story, his only obstacles are bandits who threaten to rob him, and his borderline bi polar wife.
As the story unfolds, he wants to protect his friend Xico from a foolish marriage, and Iskra, the girl Xico’s in love with. They wouldn’t have become involved had Tarkio not thrown them together, and he feels responsible. Guilty, in fact, which leads him to handle the situation badly. He’s afraid of thunder and lightening, a fear that delays him from providing vital help to Xico and Iskra.
Then I thought about Tarkio’s trading buddies. They’re minor characters, not critical to the main story line. I hadn’t thought much about them before. But by giving them a secret, a love or a fear, they could become more than just sidekicks.
Poales, for example, had always been a bit of an intellectual, a problem solver. Then I thought to turn this into a love of tinkering, of inventing things, which he sells to the riskers. He gives a clever invention to Xico near the end of the story, one that helps Xico.
Waukomis, on the other hand, is an adventurer, always testing the limits and acting on impulse. What keeps him in line is his fear of losing his trading license and having to settle down in one place. Sometimes he fantasizes about running away to join the riskers, or even the pirates.
All this came from just a few moments of thought. But the story will be richer, and I hope, more satisfying, because of it.