When the temperature is not 110 in the shade with humidity at 99%, I enjoy walking. I have a nice 3.5 miles mapped out that gives me shade and sun, hills and level areas, and plenty of interesting bits and pieces to observe as I walk. I don’t know about you, but when I’m walking, all kinds of ideas come into my head. Most of them end up relating to writing in some way.
This morning, as I walked, I saw kids trekking to school. Some had to walk several blocks, some came in on a bus, and I watched one mom drop her child off then drive about a block and pull into her own driveway. Seeing that roused an old memory from my own school bus riding days. The bus dropped off a brother and sister at the end of their driveway less than 200 feet from their front door. During the winter, and on rainy days, their mother would meet them in the car and drive them that tiny distance to the house. It probably took longer to get them in the car than it would just to let them walk to the house. I lived a couple miles farther along the road. The bus did not take me to the driveway. I disembarked where the highway and our old dirt road intersected, then I walked to the house. Even if my folks weren’t at their jobs, I doubt they would have picked me up on rainy days. I had galoshes, a rain hat and a raincoat. Those other kids were spoiled. I thought it then, and I still think so.
So what does this have to do with writing, you ask. Sometimes we spoil our characters. We pick them up and tote them across the mud puddles where they might get dirty, or we provide them safe passage across an icy path where they might fall and get hurt. We tuck them safely and snugly in our warm, comfy vehicle and transport them exactly where we want them to go, and guess what? They haven’t learned how to go through mud and clean themselves up afterward, or learned where to step to avoid falling on the ice. In fact, they are dull and impassive and no one wants to read about them.
If feedback from readers tell you that your characters are dull and lifeless, maybe you’ve spoiled them. Let them make that trek on their own, allow them to be covered it grit and slime, let them fall and bust their bottoms and/or dignity. Step back and let them grow up.