It's a cool story, if not exactly groundbreaking in subject matter. The only problem, is that when I went back and read it, I was underwhelmed. So, I did a second draft. Same thing. Third time's the charm? Not so much.
It took me some time to figure it out, but figure it out I did. It was the character. I didn't like him. No...that's not right. Not liking a character is perfectly acceptable if the character isn't likeable. This was much, much worse.
I didn't care for him.
He fell flat, to me, a two-dimensional construct who served no function other than to move the story forward to some fixed destination. He was a cliché.
This made me think about what makes a good character. People in real life are complex. No matter how good or bad, real people are the sum total of all their experiences, filtered through the internal lens of both nature and nurture. Those experiences, and the knowledge, right or wrong, gained from those experiences, colors their actions. The "hooker with a heart of gold" is a cliché. But what if your hooker actually had a master's degree in Molecular Biology. Ah! Now, that's a story!
Your job, as a writer, is to know that backstory, to know, in other words, what motivates your characters, good or evil. Does your character loathe spiders? Have ADD? Secretly believes M&Ms are laced with mind-altering drugs designed to turn humans into compliant sheep for our alien overlords? These are things that are going to drive the motivations - and therefore, the actions - of your characters, and you had best know what they are, if you want to make characters that are believable, that live and breathe, and make the reader want to find out what happens to them next. Instead of controlling the character, picture him or her sitting next to you, telling you what happened. This is how you get to the TRUTH.
So, keeping this in mind, I have started rewriting, yet again. I can see the difference. My character doesn't just sit there, like a puppet, waiting for me to move it. He lives. He breathes. He has his reasons for being where he is, for doing what he does. For taking rides from complete strangers.
This is my story, he says. This is what happened. Tell them the truth.
And I will. Go, do thou likewise.