I've been reading a lot of craft books lately - mostly about humour and script-writing, and this theme keeps popping up in my mind.
Bigger is better.
I wrote before of being committed. If your character is supposed to be whimsical, be careful not to try so hard to balance her out that you end up with a sensible MC with a spoonful of whimsy. But apart from being committed to character, I also realise the relevance of the term "larger than life" in writing.
Story people are crueler than real people. They're more neurotic. They're more spaced-out. They're bigger skanks. They believe their philosophies whole-heartedly. Real people go back and forth and back and forth and back and forth ad infinitum. In a story that just seems whiny. When you're sailing a ship and another ship approaches, you have to go hard over to port (or starboard depending on the laws in that area), so that the other ship is immediately clear what's going on. Ditto for story people.
That's not to say they don't need contrasting characteristics. Real people are not all one characteristic. If they're cruel, you can show a kind moment. If they're neurotic, a moment when they let loose. But I find that personally, I have the problem of trying too hard to balance out the characteristics. The characters end up extremely like real people, but they make for very wishy-washy characters. Going big solves that problem.
Plot is what I suck most at. (Unless you count snowboarding. I suck lollipops at snowboarding.) So I read a lot of plotting books. Many, if not all, of them agree that there needs to be a moment near the beginning of the story where the Main Character no longer has the option of going back. Luke in Star Wars doesn't have the option of going back to the farm. Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz can't just return to Kansas (well, technically...). Ted Striker in Airplane can't just get off the plane.
The "catalyst" as some experts call it must be big enough that the Main Character has to make a choice. It's even better if there's a time limit to that choice. In HUNGER GAMES, Katniss has to choose between letting her thoroughly unprepared sister compete, or volunteering, and she has to make that choice in seconds.
Near the end of a story, there's a point often referred to as the "all is lost" or "dark night of the soul." (Some people define them as different things, some don't.) As the term, all is lost suggests, there's no hope. Let me repeat that, it's important.
The temptation (for me, at least) is to not go all in on the all is lost moment. After all, you still have to resolve the thing. But if the audience can see the way out, then all really isn't lost is it. The harder the MC falls here, the more amazing the victory.
Do you have any difficulty making their plots and characters big enough?