Given the questions raised in the "Style of Writing?" thread, and the comments about arguing over minutia, I figure it's time we raised our game by discussing the craft, rather than the nitty-gritty details, of writing.
I read a writing magazine not so long ago (I know, I can hardly stand them, as they generally have the most useless ideas imaginable), but I picked it up because it detailed 'how to breathe life into your fictional characters'.
The article was mostly a collection of 5-minute exercises, but one struck me as an excellent point. As many of us have observed before, what's not said in a story is often more important than what's explicitly said. That's fine advice, but how do we know what should not be said.
This article proposed the following idea. Stop and consider your primary character, and ask yourself, what would they absolutely NOT tell anyone. Whether it's their age, their background, their moral or business failures, THAT's what you base their character on. As they continue to dodge the issue, not answering the questions about it, it'll paint a complex image of their insecurities and contradictions, and provide additional drama as it provides a source of conflict between them and their allies.
Just image the Viet Nam vet who never speaks of his time in the war and what he witnessed, or the WWII era folks who won't discuss their finances or how little they had during the great depression. I actually did the same, unintentionally in my latest two stories, as the main character, Phil, couldn't tell his own family why he couldn't honestly tell his family certain details of his life--and that led directly into why he couldn't admit what he was doing throughout the stories.
Anyway, that was my latest writing insights. Hope it helps. Any thoughts, observations or protests? And what other plot/character advice can you offer which might guide your fellow authors, or at least provide additional tools in their writing arsenal?