A quiet, lonely woman adopts a cat. Sure. Then she buys a motorcycle. Maybe. Then, she starts dating a man 15 years older. Well …
Regardless of whether or not your novel is plot or character driven, your characters need to evolve, and they need to evolve realistically. It’s not enough to show the above change in your heroine – you need to show her motivation, otherwise no one will believe the change. Before you can show that change, however, you need to know everything about your character.
How do you get to know her? Regress into your 3 year-old self – ask why. Start with the general information (name, age, weight, job, family), then start asking questions. Keeping asking questions until you find the root, the motivating force. Let’s look at our above heroine (Kitty) and her desire to buy a cat.
Kitty buys a cat. Why?
She’s tired of being alone. Why?
She’s 35 and still single. Why?
She has commitment issues. Why?
Her mom married and divorced six times, and Kitty doesn’t want to make the same mistakes. Why?
Her heart broke each time “Dad” moved out. Why?
Because she wanted a Daddy so badly that she gave her heart to every man her mom brought home.
So … it’s possible that Kitty’s dating older men because she still has Daddy issues.
People don’t act without a reason, and your characters shouldn’t either. If you want Kitty’s story to end with her adopting six kids from China, make sure you know why she’s doing it, then make sure you show the reader why she’s doing it. Take the time to get to know your characters. Interview them, research their pasts, know how the hero responded when he lost the election for Freshmen Class President in high school. Most of this information will never make it into your novel, but it will help you create vibrant, realistic characters.