Writers have to study how characters are developed. Typically we study an author's approach. Hemingway, for example, gave us very little description of people. In his story "Cat in the Rain" we get only one piece of physical description: the wife has short hair and wants it long so she can braid it. We are left analyzing the characters given the situation, dialog, and action.
The couple is in Europe on their honeymoon. The girl/wife talks about what she wants: first she mentions the cat that is seeking shelter from the rain, and then she moves to silverware and candles. It's clear she wants to settle down and start a family. Her hair is short like a boy's, a reminder of the 1920s style and the time when Hemingway was writing, but her short hair is also a reminder of her youthful days. She wants the long hair and round bun that is symbolic of motherhood; she projects this mothering desire through her actions to save the cat. (Notice she calls it a kitty.) The husband, however, spends his time reading the newspaper and half listening to his new wife.
Hemingway's story is a mere two pages long, but we clearly understand these two characters. Afterall, what should
a honeymooning couple do when the weather turns? Certainly not read the newspaper. Writers can see how Hemingway uses everything but physical description to develop his characters.
I want to shift gears a bit and talk about interesting characters on the Sci-Fi TV shows: Stargate SG1, Stargate Atlantis, and Battlestar Galactica. I'd rather not spend time explaining the shows in too much detail, so my apologies if what follows doesn't connect with those how are unfamiliar with the shows.
I think SG1 and BSG are both reflecting strongly on our culture. SG1 is looking mostly at religious fundamentalism and how and why people believe in the things they do. Every once in a while they'll make some lame (IMO) apology for those believing in "real" gods, ie gods w/o corporeal existence. Other than that, I think their take on the Ori is fabulous.
As for BSG, they are focusing more on the mechanisms of propaganda and roles of gov't vs politicians in protecting the people. Their recent approaches to abortion and election fraud were interesting, mostly because we saw people trying to do the right thing and then giving that up for personal power. We know Gaius Baltar is the wrong president, but we also know that election fraud is wrong. So far, we're seeing these machinations from the inside. While we occasionally see the "average" person in the fleet, our focus is on those in power.
I wish I had paid more attention to the first season of BSG. It didn't hook me immediately, mostly because I couldn't tolerate the directing. Since they've nuked the crappy camera shoots and toned it way down, I'm more able to focus on the storyline and the characters, both of which are great.
I love Starbuck. Her character is so interesting. She has talent and brains, but she fucks up enough with drinking and men that we see her as a real person, flaws and all. Baltar runs a close second for me. He's going crazy. We have no idea how he is connected to the cylons, but he is. We've seen him move from doctor to politician to corrupt power-hungry cylon supporter without the balls to admit his flaws. For some odd reason, I like to see him sweat.
As for SG1 and Atlantis characters, I love Rodney. Like Starbuck, he's gifted (scientifically speaking) but he's an ass. He has no social skills to cover up his arrogance. His quirks, like eating all the time to maintain his blood sugar levels, make him an interesting person to watch. I used to like Samantha Carter, especially when we saw her dating and getting involved in things other than her work, but now she's become too flat: she's all about her work. I love Vala. You can tell she had a very shitty life, which is why she lives trapped behind emotional walls so thick she can't focus on anything other than surfaces. However, we've started seeing her break through those walls and admit (albeit not consciously) her connections with the SG1 team, especially Daniel Jackson. Her entire life has been lie after lie to cheat her way through situations. She's never been emotionally attached, and yet now, she's pregnant, doesn't know the father, and I think the last person she had sex with was Daniel, but that was long ago. This pregnancy seems to be turning her character around. We love to see characters redeem themselves, and that's why I find her so intriguing.
Too often when writers introduce characters, they start with the physical: "His stocky frame barely fit through the door", or "her skin was smooth like silk but her hair was curled tightly like wool." We don't connect with characters because of their looks; we connect with them because of their actions and reactions to the given situation.
In my own writing, I'm struggling with making my protagonist strong and likeable and interesting. She has hurdles to overcome, and she goes into deep depressions, but how can I get her to those depths without losing my reader? I need you readers to connect with her so that you'll follow her through those dark times and then stay with her to the end.