I’m writing a novel, too. First one. Finished the manuscript. Paid a smart English-teacher bookworm friend to edit. Came back with honest feedback. Now, I’m rewriting it.
Learned two BIG lessons about character development.
You’ve heard about show, don’t tell. I’m sure. That’s #1 rule of writing novels.
My mistake was thinking that the dialogue and actions of a character showed who they were and that that was enough. I thought a reader could eventually get a sense for who someone was by the way they acted and spoke. Not true. You have to get inside the characters mind to explain why they are saying what they’re saying and doing what they’re doing.
This requires backstory. Meaning childhood upbringing and parents. Instead of saying, “He was scared of bats.” Weave in a childhood memory with Dad about being stuck in a cave… Also, think about biographies and the process of making new friends. Readers and people want to find out where people came from and what shaped them throughout their lives.
The second lesson was about the main character, the protagonist, especially for novels written in first person. My story follows a selfish, young brat who goes through hell to mature, ending in a grand finale of father-son forgiveness. The lesson I learned was that the “I” has to be likeable from the onset. My editor and wife (also editor) asked me, “Why should I care about him? He’s a jerk.” I realized there was no good reason to keep reading about what happens to him because he was unrelatably terrible.
Also, watch this, and draw the graph of your novel: