September 13, 2021

A Counselor’s Perspective on Creating Character Driven Novels

Amanda Cox

When I create a cast of characters I always put on my counselor specs to

examine who this character really is, who they want to become, and what within them keeps them from their goal. And the biggest question of all, “why?” Then, I explore the details of the plot.

One of my favorite things about writing is that you can take two different characters on the same plot journey and get completely different stories. Why? Because if they are well-developed characters, they each will come with their own set of core motivations, desires, fears, and insecurities. The events of the plot will affect different characters in different ways.

A character predisposed to self-sacrifice to the point of derailing their own life will react very differently to a phone call from a sibling whose business is dying than a success-driven character on the brink of their big break. Not only that, the sibling’s role in their childhood can be a huge determining factor in how these characters might react.

Just like real people, the possibilities are endless. One plot and an infinite number of ways it could play out based on who the characters are and what they crave at their core.

When asked if I write character-driven or plot-driven novels, I can only shrug and say, “Character-driven, but both, I guess.”

The traditional definition of a character-driven novel is a novel focused more on character development than on the plot (action). I look at “character-driven” in another way. My characters direct my plot development. Because when you know your character on a unique, individual level, you know what would crush them, inspire them, and heal them. In other words, when you know who the characters are at their core, then you know what types of events to weave into your plot to move the story forward in an authentic and engaging way.

Five basic areas I explore to determine what plot events my characters need:

1. Family background- how would they describe their childhood?

2. Past experiences with love and acceptance- A time they felt most loved? A time they felt unloved?

3. Their life goals- Digging deep into why is this so important to them

4. Basic human needs- which would scare them the most to be without? Why?

5. Desire for change: If they could change one thing about their life what would it be? Outside of excuses, what is the real barrier in their change journey?

And when I get the answers to these questions, I keep digging, keep asking why, until I reach the core of who they are. And when I know what makes them tick, the real plot development begins.

What about you? Do you start with the plot and develop characters to fit? Or start with characters and craft the plot to fit? Another thing I love about writing: There is no wrong way to go about it! Happy Writing!

Amanda Cox is the author of The Edge of Belonging. A blogger and a curriculum developer for a national nonprofit youth leadership organization, she holds a bachelor’s degree in Bible and theology and a master’s degree in professional counseling, but her first love is communicating through story.

Her studies and her interactions with hurting families over a decade have allowed her to create multidimensional characters that connect emotionally with readers. She lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee, with her husband and their three children. 

Learn more at


  1. Thank you Amanda for sharing the five basic areas. This opens up more for writers. . .

  2. I copied and pasted your 5 basic areas because I'm starting a new book and while I have my plot in mind, I can't start writing until I know a few things about my characters.