Tl:dr: Don’t fret. Maybe your story isn’t about the characters at
Once upon a time (1990, to be exact), Ender’s Game author Orson Scott
Card wrote a book about How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy.
Now, OSC, love him or hate him, knew a thing or two about the craft
when he wrote this, especially as it applies to speculative fiction
genres, which I propose to include sci-fi, fantasy, historical
fantasy, alt history and even horror.
He proposed that all stories are a mash-up of four elements: Milieu,
Idea, Character and Event, or the MICE Quotient. To some extent, one
of these concepts must dominate the others. Let me break them down
The Milieu is the world the story is set in. Every story has one, but
sometimes, it’s the world the writer cares most about. In Gulliver’s
Travels, as OSC notes, the point of the story is to visit these
different places and either compare them to the societies of Swift’s
time, or, for us readers now, to compare them to our societies. It
would have been absurd, therefore, to blather on about Gulliver’s
childhood. Rather, the story starts and ends with his journey.
The Idea story starts with a question, and the point of the story is
to answer that question. Mystery stories are essentially Idea
stories, generally answering the question “Who killed this person?”
Mystery readers are accustomed to this story structure, so they don’t
need to find a dead body on page 1. But in other genres, if you’re
writing an Idea story, you should make it clear relatively early on.
The Character story. We know this one. Done properly, a Character
story is about “the transformation of a character’s role in the
communities that matter most” to that character. Here’s the meat of
the answer to your question: “It is a common misconception that all
good stories must have full characterization. That is not quite true.
All good Character stories must have good characterization, because
that is what they are about; and other kinds of stories can have full
characterization, as long as the reader is not misled” into
expecting one when the story is really something else. (p. 79, from
the 2001 edition).
In the Event story, something is wrong with the natural order of your
created world, and (most commonly), the story is about setting things
back the way they’re supposed to be. Or creating the world that should be. Or, most rarely, watching the world descend into chaos.
Regardless of which MICE story you write, “The most important thing
is that you must end the story that you begin.” Don’t promise a
Milieu story and then get into chapters of detail about how your MC grew up.
you get seriously bogged down, and the editing process isn’t going to
fix it, maybe you need to rethink the kind of story you’re telling,
and you need to go back to the beginning to fix it. (Save your
drafts, all of them!)
Now, if you’re still bent on writing a character-driven story, or you still need to flesh out characters in another story format, make sure you check out our tags section; perhaps there are resources there that can help.
If not, then please submit another ask with a specific example, and maybe we can help you debug.