I usually like to write out my characters first, kinda set it up like a D&D character. You know like skills, abilities, alignment, etc. Then I figure out how the story ends and what the whole big message my character is supposed to learn. From there, I know what has to happen for the character to have that big revelation.
I had a teacher that wrote the ending for a story and then realized that in order for her one character to reach that end, the writer had to kill off the character's child. It was intense, but she had to do it in order for the character to develop.
So I tend to focus more about the character then plot, instead of figuring out a plot and sticking characters in.