Creating a real character is the ‘golden fleece’ of story telling. Once we believe your character(s) are living, breathing human beings, or any other life form, as Mr. Spock might put it, we engage with the character and the story you are telling us, preferably through a series of hints, not labels. Ian Fleming never describes James Bond, he is defined by his actions and reactions; these are the key attributes we need to get him/her/it stepping around our imagination, forming the impression you intended. Allowing us to feel our way into the story, rather than showing us a 48-sheet, full-colour illuminated poster.
Using Fleming’s Bond again as an example, if we are employing the same character in a series of different stories, we need to start hinting at their ‘back story’. Slowly we find out where they come from. Why he fears women, why she never wears red etc etc. They maybe part of the sky in the jigsaw, but they all need to be put in place to complete the picture and underline our belief.
Helping us define our character are other props such as habits, clothes, newspapers they read and little quirks like a penchant for Deer-stalkers, though not a literary figure Colombo’s raincoat tells us masses about his character. Plus of course our character(s) need to talk, so why dialogue can be difficult at the best of times, to keep him in character over a series of stories is vital to us believing in your creation. So we need to establish their voice, and stick with it,
it is both what they say and how they say it.
If all this is teaching my grandmother to suck eggs, a pastime I have never indulged in myself, I apologise. I think this is me thinking out loud, trying to get to grips with my Comanche Joe character and make you all believe a talking dog in the wild west smacks a wee bit of the truth. If I don’t believe in him why should you? If we don’t believe in any of our characters, why should the reader, and, at the risk of sounding like Rhet Butler, give a damn?