I am cross-posting over at Smack-Dab-In-the-Middle today ... and I am looking at the frozen New England tundra of my back yard, with serious doubts that anything will ever grow there again. I'd much rather think about growing characters. I can't make the dirt-streaked snow melt, but I can do whatever I want with my characters.
E.B. White said, "Don't write about man. Write about a man."
I love that quote, because it reminds me that a well-drawn character takes a story to a completely different level. If a reader does this well, she can make her reader laugh, or cry -- or both.
By creating real characters, a writer can bring out raw emotion in the reader. I'm not only talking about realistic fiction, either. I'm talking about creating a character so real, that without even noticing, the reader invites that character into his life. Well after he has put the book down, he is quoting the character, or saying things like, "That sounds like something Bilbo Baggins would do." ...or..."I'm more of a Gryffindor than a Hufflepuff."
So to create real characters, you have to go out and look at real people. Eavesdrop and study mannerisms and quirks. Don't keep to yourself. (Change out of your pajamas and get out from behind that computer screen.) You need to mingle--to be nosy. You need to talk to strangers. Strike up a conversation with the least likely person. I'm not asking you to go chat up the meth dealer on the corner, but talk to someone who you think is the least like you.
Then write down what those strangers say-- and not just what they say, but how they say it. How do they stand, sit, move? What are they doing with their hands?
Write it down. All of it. Take a piece of one person, and a phrase from another. Add. Water. Prune. Your characters are beginning to grow...I can't wait to meet them.