The best character driven novels

Who am I?

My passions for strong, dynamic characters in novels are threefold: as a teacher, an author, and a reader. The most important interest in character development came as a reader. I was drawn to characters who seemed to leap off the page and remind me of real people. As a teacher, there's no greater satisfaction than discussing a fictional character with your students as if they were a historical figure. And as an author, I'm so much more interested in who my characters are than in what they do. Their choices should always evolve out of their personalities. If you really want to stay in a reader’s mind, have a character they're willing to fight for.

I wrote...

Murder in the Painted Lady

By M.L. Hamilton,

Book cover of Murder in the Painted Lady

What is my book about?

Peyton and Marco have solved more cases than many senior members of the San Francisco PD, but this case (the death of a high-end real estate agent) is proving more difficult than the others. With no evidence, no suspects, and no motive, Peyton fears they won't get a break in the case before the killer strikes again. In the multi-million dollar San Francisco real estate market, realtors are literally dying for a sale.

The books I picked & why

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Their Eyes Were Watching God

By Zora Neale Hurston,

Book cover of Their Eyes Were Watching God

Why this book?

Their Eyes Were Watching God is a book that I read every year with my students and no matter what age I am when I read it, I come away with something new I’ve discovered. I think what draws me to this book is the main character, Janie Crawford. She is such a complex mix of thoughts and experiences, and the way Hurston lets her grow over the course of the book is a stroke of pure brilliance. When Janie returns to Eatonville, barefoot, wearing coveralls, the townspeople think she’s been defeated, but they don’t even begin to know the two things she’s learned about life: “They got tuh go tuh God, and they got tuh find out about livin’ fuh theyselves,” (Hurston, 192). 

Crime and Punishment

By Fyodor Dostoevsky, Richard Pevear, Larissa Volokhonsky

Book cover of Crime and Punishment

Why this book?

I’ve spoken a lot about the impact Crime and Punishment has had on me as an author. I read it in high school, and it was the first time I fully comprehended the power of the written word. Dostoevsky creates a character in Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov (Rodya) that should horrify any lover of true crime; however, throughout the course of the novel, Dostoevsky breathes such life into Rodya that you find yourself rooting for a base murderer to escape his just punishment. Now that’s power. Not only that, but come on, how fun is that name to say!


By William Shakespeare,

Book cover of Macbeth

Why this book?

Ah, Macbeth—as anyone who knows my books will be aware, Shakespeare has had a powerful influence on my writing. While it might not be fair to include a play here, I think this one deserves a place of honor on this list. My favorite Shakespearean work is Hamlet, but over the years, I’ve developed a deep appreciation for the Scottish play. Macbeth, as a character, is fascinating. The descent into madness brought on by pure ambition is jarring, but the character who is most interesting is actually Lady Macbeth. There is no Macbeth without the machinations and manipulation of his queen, who in the end, comes to the startling reality that she has created a monster.


By Anne McCaffrey,

Book cover of Dragonsong

Why this book?

I remember it distinctly—the day my father brought home Dragonsong for me. I had shown signs of being an avid reader and he thought I might like this book because it had a pretty cover. It did have a startlingly beautiful cover, but it was the story inside that captivated me. The tale of Menolly’s flight away from the stagnation of her family and her survival struck a chord in me, and I imagined myself as Menolly, learning to live life on my own without the support of those around me. And secretly, I always wanted a fire lizard for a pet. McCaffrey immerses you in her world so completely that you can see it, and Menolly is the perfect vehicle for that adventure.

Of Mice and Men

By John Steinbeck,

Book cover of Of Mice and Men

Why this book?

My favorite John Steinbeck novel is Grapes of Wrath, but for pure character development, I have to choose this heart-wrenching classic. For me, Of Mice and Men is a singularly brilliant piece of writing. In only six chapters, Steinbeck creates characters in Lenny and George that are so real, so lifelike they have become a staple in dynamic characterization. Any writer who wants to learn how to draw living characters should study this novella because this is the pinnacle of how character development should be done. And for the reader, there is no more gutting scene than the final one. Sob.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in St. Petersburg, dragons, and magic-supernatural?

5,716 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about St. Petersburg, dragons, and magic-supernatural.

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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