Characterisation is at the heart of any really good story as far as I’m concerned. Real people dealing with real situations. Or sometimes (as in speculative fiction) not-real situations. That’s when creating believable characters becomes absolutely crucial. If your characters aren’t believable, your reader won’t relate to them.
I recently read a SF romance book (Linnea Sinclair, “Games of Command”) that has stayed in my mind ever since. Because of the brilliant characterisation. I’ve re-read parts of the book several times. Yes, you’re right; one was the Big Sex Scene. But not for any cheap, auto-erotic thrill. Rather, it was because of the wonderful way she has portrayed her male protagonist, a cyber-enhanced admiral. Finally, after all those years, he’s going to actually live his fantasy with the woman of his dreams. Please understand this man is a leader, on top of his game (pardon the pun) in the military. But when he’s faced with the reality of getting his gear off and making love to her, every anxiety, every imagined inadequacy he ever had, comes to the surface. And it really is so totally believable. I felt for this guy, I really did.
How do you do it? I don’t know. I don’t use people I know as characters in my books. Sure, I think about how people I know might react in a given circumstance to give me a clue about what somebody might do. But I can honestly say, hand on heart, that if anyone I know recognises him/herself as a character in my work, he/she is deluding him/herself.
What I do use is Allan and Barbara Pease’s excellent book “The Definitive Book of Body Language” to try to sort out how people might react in a given situation. Another useful tool is the Myers-Briggs personality types. There are many, many websites. This is just one. Now you might be like me and think the whole Myers-Briggs thing is eyewash, but it actually can give you some great ideas on combining personality traits into one coherent person.
I’d love to know what other people do in their quest for a believable character.