I've been working off and on (more off really) on a particular story since 2004 and I haven't really brought it home yet. 'The Superficial Contact of Two Bodies' is a far future tale of love, betrayal, death, redemption and the end of the universe. I haven't been able to finish it to my satisfaction (not yet) but I love it, because I think it has the potential to juggle a lot of different elements - a satsifying science fictional universe, an interesting and at times exciting plot line, and at the centre a complex and very human character. The title is taken from a quotation, as a lot of my titles are, and is a cynical reference to love, which - hopefully - through the frame of the story, can be seen to be ironic. Clearly I'm not giving up on it, mainly because of the human character aspect. Paul Haines is a friend and also a writer whom I greatly admire, not least because his blisteringly honest work shows characters that are fully-fledged three-dimensional people. They are neither good or bad, but both and neither. They encapsulate contradictions and demonstrate that for all we'd like to believe, we are not - when it really comes down to it - rational creatures. That's something I believe in deeply and something that I want to see in my own work, because it's what excites me and what I think excites a reader. To be presented with a tale where the protagonist appears wholly real, and to partake in their most secret moments is an exciting thing. So work continues.
I also read a lot of unpublished stories from writers when I'm reading for anthologies, as well as reading a lot of independent press stuff through my reviewing work. A lot of these stories don't (IMHO) spend enough energy in investing their characters with real life and complexity. Writing's a difficult craft and there are lots of things to think about. Does the plot make sense, how's the pacing, is this going to hold reader interest, how's my dialogue, etc. But I believe if authors took time to really think about their characters and invest them with as much living, breathing reality as they possibly could, then a lot of the other elements of story would flow naturally from that investment. In a way it's like saddling up the right horse and letting it pull the cart as it will, rather than focusing too much on an aspect of the cart, the wheels, the seat etc. and then grabbing a nondescript horse out of the stable and sticking them together. If your character is as real as you can make them then the world around them becomes real by how they interact with it. The plot starts to make sense because your character's actions must make sense to them. They speak realistically because that is how your character speaks.
My story will only work when I get the character exactly right. When he lives and breathes and acts in my created world. He's waiting for me to finish that story. I know that because he already has a life.