To have a memorable story, to have a series people want to follow for years across many books, to have a story readers clamor about a sequel for, you need characters people want to follow. It does not matter if you have a strong plot, great action, tense drama; if you forget to create a character(s) people want to read about, you won’t have a book people want to read past page 50.
It is true, you can create a kickass story without memorable characters. The plot can be so strong that it stands on a pedestal by itself. The big picture is great and engaging. And therein lies the problem. It is easy to get caught up in the big picture, to create scenes that are so engaging that you tear through them while reading and writing, but the character development is forgotten about.
To put it another way. Before a story is written it is a good idea to develop a character, the protagonist or antagonist to start with. You go so deep into the backstory you know what movies that person likes, what food they hate, how they did in school, what fights they got into when young. You know the character so well that describing that character to the reader is forgotten about. Not because you don’t want to waste the energy in describing the character, but because in your head the character is alive and you know why they are doing what they are doing.
This brings me to my next point: beta readers
It is in my humble opinion that it is absolutely impossible to know if you (I) create an amazing character, without someone who knows nothing of the storyline/backstory to read the story and tell me if the characters work. I can read and reread what I write and love it, but I cannot take that step back and read it like a person who has never seen it before. Read it like a person who knew nothing of any character until they saw the words in the book.
Beta readers are that person. Beta readers can read the work and immediately see the shortcomings of the characters, because they know nothing about them beyond what they see in the book. They can see the characters not developing past, “Hi, I’m the protagonist.”
It is hard to find a good beta reader. A lot of people say they will be one then life gets in the way and reading your unfinished book goes to the back burner. But I tell you, find one. Search long and hard. Find that friend who likes reading, or a family member who likes reading and implore on them that you NEED their help. That without their help your book is going to suck (it may not but a tiny guilt trip isn’t bad 😉 ).
Find that beta reader and write yourself a novel that puts the works of the great Neil Gaiman to shame.