The best novels that are character-driven

Who am I?

I’ve been reading for 69 years, writing fiction for 43 years. I’ve read many more than 10,000 books. In my own writing, I begin with characters I create from combinations of traits and personalities I’ve met in life. I get to know them as friends. I then put them into the setting I’ve devised and given them free rein to develop the story. I know the destination, but the route is left to them. This involves much re-writing once the story is down on paper, but allows me to experience the excitement, concern, fear, love, and delights felt by the characters as I write the tale.

I wrote...

An Excess Of ...

By Stuart Aken,

Book cover of An Excess Of ...

What is my book about?

Six strangers escape a shipwreck and land on a deserted tropical island, isolated and without any means of contact with the outside world. From very different cultures and backgrounds, they must bury their differences and learn to cooperate if they are to survive. But passions, beliefs, superstitions, and developing relationships create a corrosive, divisive atmosphere laced with potential violence. Who will live to return to a world made unrecognizable by Covid and climate change?

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

A Place Called Schugara

By Joe English,

Book cover of A Place Called Schugara

Why this book?

I write character-driven fiction and it is always the people and their relationships that most engage me in any story. I found the characters here complex, real, engaging, and, in some instances, foul specimens demonstrating that existence for survival alone is an inadequate way of life for any person. These are fully developed people, though they are mostly unusual individuals; archetypes rather than stereotypes. The people hooked me from the start. I cared what happened to these adventurers. I also cared that those who deserved retribution would receive it.

The Hermit of Blue Ridge

By Cary Grossman,

Book cover of The Hermit of Blue Ridge

Why this book?

Character-driven romance is relatively rare, but this book, essentially a complex and deep love story, is seen entirely through the eyes of lovers. The people on these pages are both exceptional and real. We’re treated to their aspirations, frailties, courage, desires, truths, and lies. These are people I’ve met and been impressed by.

When young, gifted, and hauntingly beautiful Sarah enters the hideaway of best-selling reclusive author, Jeremy, both their lives are fundamentally changed. To supply any more details of the story would be to give spoilers, and the last thing I want to do here is spoil anyone’s read.


By Yann Martel,

Book cover of Self

Why this book?

This story begins in the first person in the company of a young boy. I lived with him through his early teens and schooling, a huge tragedy, and his fate as the isolated offspring of high-flying achievers, his early experiences, and the casual physical and mental cruelty associated with boarding schools.

Abruptly, I was plunged into the life of a young woman in her late teens, still in the first person. Surprisingly, this overnight transition, both physical and mental, caused me only a short pause to reflect on the nature of gender. I travelled with this developing young woman as she experienced love, sex, and the joys and sorrows life throws at a sensitive, intelligent, and creative soul who enters the world of writing. Her journey as a budding novelist struck a real chord with me, having travelled that difficult and demanding route.

Storm Girl

By Linda Nicklin, Ramon Marett (illustrator),

Book cover of Storm Girl

Why this book?

I have written speculative fiction, and the protagonist, Angel, a feisty, courageous, enigmatic, curious survivor is placed into such a setting. Climate change, one of my personal concerns, has wreaked havoc with the geographical, and therefore the political world, as we know it. It deals with the way elites take what they see as the necessary action to continue their privileged lifestyles.

The author managed to make me empathize with almost all the characters on some level, regardless how selfish, wicked, good, generous, or courageous they may be. I encountered elderly heroes and heroines, resourceful individuals and communities, victims, self-serving demagogues, cruel leaders, uncaring servants, unquestioning followers, and a group of talented and determined resistance fighters bent on turning a terrifying world into a just and equable future.

Catling's Bane

By D. Wallace Peach,

Book cover of Catling's Bane

Why this book?

I'm a reader who loves books where characters determine the story arc. Plot-driven books generally leave me cold. This novel has a cast of players I found easy to empathize with; even the villains. They are drawn in fascinating detail with all their flaws and all their glories to make them real people who are easy to engage with throughout the story. In spite of some tough scenes, it's a book I thoroughly enjoyed reading.

The author introduces some thought-provoking and timely themes here. The story examines injustice, wealth inequality, gender discrimination, political intrigue, the fallibility of leaders, ethics, and morality, and the ever-present problems of prejudice driven by ignorance. All themes guaranteed to engage me.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in archetypes, earth, and sexism?

5,810 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about archetypes, earth, and sexism.

Archetypes Explore 19 books about archetypes
Earth Explore 166 books about earth
Sexism Explore 30 books about sexism

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Women Who Run with the Wolves, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, and Conscious Femininity if you like this list.