Your characters are the thread by which you knit your story together. A great beginning, good plot, and outstanding pacing are nothing without appealing characters who stay true to themselves throughout your story. Knowing your characters before you write will enable you to create seamless transitions as your hero and heroine move from who they are at the beginning of the story, to who they will be at the end. This growth arc is vital to creating a believable and enjoyable read. Just as our struggles help shape our personality and character, our hero and heroine should be learning and growing as they face whatever obstacles we put in their way. Without such transformation, they become stagnant and unappealing.
Creating believable, enjoyable characterization isn't always easy. To ensure a flawless growth arc, begin characterization well before you write the first line of your story. Jot down descriptions of your hero and heroine, including not just physical attributes, but emotional ones. The past will be an important part of this. What shaped your characters' feelings about life, about the opposite sex, about marriage, family, his or her own moral code? What makes her so independent? What makes him so sure he'll never marry? How does each scene change that perspective? These changes may be subtle, but they must be there. Even as our characters struggle against their attraction for one another, they must also be drawing closer to one another.
If you're not writing romance, the same holds true. Most women's fiction is about relationships. Mother-daughter, sister-sister, daughter-father, best friends. Who are your characters to one another and how does their perspective of that relationship change as your story progresses?
Happy ending or not, your story must reflect the beauty of humanity, the complexity of interpersonal relationships, and the satisfaction that comes from accepting others for who they are, not what we want them to be. In doing this, you will touch the heart of those who read your work and draw them back for more.