That was the title of the first panel I participated in at CONduit. We had a great discussion on character.
What comes to mind when you think of a vanilla character? Ordinary? Safe? Forgettable?
Yeah. Not want we want in our fiction, right? We want vibrant, dynamic, memorable characters. Characters that live in the readers heads and in their hearts.
So, how do you create them? My best advice in this arena is to observe people in real life. Yes, you might even consider eavesdropping. You have colorful characters all around you. Watch what people do. Listen to what they say. Try to imagine their motives, their feelings, their history. It's loads of fun.
Consider how setting affects your character. Where do they live? In what time period? What kind of culture do they come from? What kind of family? How does all of that affect them?
You can give your character quirks, but to just add quirks randomly is sort of cheating. Create quirks that really add depth to your character. One of the panelists gave the example of a character who stutters because when he was young his house was burning down and when he called 911, he was too frightened to be able to get the words out. Deeper than just a plain old stutter, right? One the main characters in my novel has a locket she wears with pictures of the family she never met. Whenever she's upset or feeling any strong emotion, she reaches for that locket. During the course of the story, the locket is taken from her. Then whenever she reaches for it out of habit and finds it isn't there, she is reminded again of all she's lost. That's the kind of quirk that works well.