When I think about what makes a story good, it’s almost always the characters and their interactions, their antics, and their disputes.
The original Star Wars had a great dynamic between brash Luke, brave Leia, wild Han, and C3PO the nay-sayer. Star Trek had brash Kirk, wise Spock, cantankerous Bones, and “She can’t give us anymore!” Scotty. Harry Potter had the trio of good students put in contrast with Malfoy’s trio of bad students, surrounded by mentors with weaknesses of their own. Lord of the Rings had the full fellowship, each with their own weaknesses and strengths and some pretty ominous uber villains. Game of Thrones has characters organized by family or lineage, and a host of them at that, everyone with discernible goals and personal failings which keep them easy to follow as they pick up their own personal plot every chapter that returns the story to their perspective.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about the most engaging stories and how the characters interact with each other, what sorts of relationships they have, and how they inspire, motivate, or hinder each other.
I think what makes great stories great is having characters that feel like real people, people you’re interested in, people who you could imagine carrying on a conversation with if they jumped off the screen or out of the page. That realness I think comes from interaction more than description or mannerisms. You should be able to form expectations about what a character would do in a given situation. They might surprise you of course, but there’d be a reason for it.
So now when I think about my stories, I try to ask myself… who is this character? Is he or she real? Do I know how they would feel about any given situation that might arise? If not, maybe I haven’t really found them yet.
You can definitely get a pretty good idea of your characters’ goals and traits before you write their interactions with each other, but I don’t think you can really get to know them as people. I’m going to try to work on my characterizations by giving them some of these points of interaction and a bit of dialog to bring them to life myself, before I even think about putting them into the “plot”.