Back when I never finished anything, I used to just give my characters a name and a situation and watch the ‘fun’.
But it wasn’t enough, I cannot be pantsless (See Confabulator Ted Boone’s Pants are optional. Plans are not. | Confabulator Cafe.) and I never finished anything! And it wasn’t all that fun, either. Not that it was their fault. Among other things, I found through this process that I needed to know these people extremely well to have a grasp on how they might act, or react, to other characters and the situations I put them in, and, come to think of it, what the situations might be that they’d be in in the first place. Is this making sense? Hello?
Writers need limits, or this one does anyway, to circumscribe the possibilities, to give boundaries to work in, to pressure the work to make it go. Willy nilly is too chaotic for me, too many choices (like those giant @&#% menus at chain restaurants) made me a worse writer, and I NEVER FINISHED ANYTHING. Did I mention that?
Now I use character worksheets to help me think about what these people look like, their backgrounds, relationships, desires; I use screenwriting techniques; I brainstorm with people about what might work; I practice with my characters in situations other than the story I think they want to tell. I think hard about them: What do they want to say? What do they want more than anything in the world? What’s to stop them? Then what? Go from the inside out. I’ve ‘finished’ some things, but it doesn’t end there–I’m still trying to make them better in revision, and I find getting down to the base motivations of my characters is a big part of that making that process better, too.
As for the reader, oh yeah, I do not want to insult the reader with boring, cliché, two dimensional characters, the actions need to flow coherently from who these people are and if they don’t, well, I hope you do shut your laptop or throw down the pages in disgust. I’m lucky to have your attention in the first place. And that’s a pretty good motivator…