I was listening to the Writing Excuses podcast today and I heard something that struck close to home. They were talking about reasons that characters might come across as "flat" or "cardboard," and I figured I'd share with you. Mainly, I want to share the thing I'm most guilty of. It's something one of the hosts called "Dialogues from the Boneyard."
I'm in the process of editing right now, which means a bunch of stuff I wrote is headed to the cutting room floor. One of the hosts of the podcast referred to this as "The Boneyard." You cut something, you stick in a file for later perusal. Who knows? You might be able to reuse scenes or good lines from that cut material, so no sense in just deleting it. Here's the problem though. Sometimes the things that define your side characters come from these dialogues, come from this cut content.
Now, what makes them a fully fleshed out character is still in your head. Just because you cut the scene doesn't mean it isn't influencing your vision of who they are. The problem is that your reader doesn't have that benefit. If you took out the scene where a side character mentions they're pursuing a law degree because their father was convicted of a crime he didn't commit, well, then the reader doesn't know. You'll remember their noble and that the law degree means everything to them, but the reader just knows, "Oh, yeah, they want to be a lawyer for some reason."
This goes hand in hand with the entry I had a week ago about fixing my own point of view. I have to constantly check my work and make sure I'm including everything that the reader needs. Obviously I know why characters are amazing, but I can't expect my reader to be psychic.
Keep your eyes open for my debut novel, The Paladin.