One of the most important things a writer can do is create characters that feel like real people. Consequently, when revising and editing a story, an author should take a hard look at his characters to see whether or not he’s brought them to life.
But what if the answer is no? In this case the author needs to look at the basics that create a character—what she does and what she says. In other words, action and dialogue.
The key to believable, realistic character action is proper motivation. Characters need logical, clearly understood reasons for what they do. Consequently, a character who has just experienced a death in the family would not seem believable if he laughs and jokes with his friends, plans his vacation, and cozies up to the girl next door with the intent to ask her out. These are not the normal actions of someone in grief.
They might be the actions an author wants he character to take, however. The missing ingredient is motivation. What would motivate a character who should be grieving to act as if he is not? If the motive is supplied well in advance, and is itself believable, otherwise anomalous actions can become powerful statements disclosing who the character is.
Without proper motivation, however, characters will more closely resemble chess pieces an author is moving around on the board than real human beings.