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Characterization is the process by which an author or creator of a narrative (such as a writer, filmmaker, or playwright) develops and describes the characters within their story. It is a literary technique used to bring characters to life, make them relatable or interesting, and enable readers or viewers to better understand and connect with them. Characterization involves providing details and information about a character’s personality, appearance, thoughts, feelings, motivations, and behavior.

Primary Methods

There are two primary methods of characterization:

  1. Direct Characterization: In direct characterization, the author explicitly tells the audience about a character’s traits, motivations, or background. This can involve straightforward descriptions or statements about the character’s attributes. For example, the author might write, “She was a kind and compassionate woman who always put others before herself.”
  2. Indirect Characterization: Indirect characterization relies on the reader or viewer inferring information about the character through their actions, dialogue, thoughts, and interactions with others in the story. Rather than being directly told about the character, the audience must deduce their qualities based on their behavior and the way they respond to various situations. For instance, if a character consistently helps others in need without seeking recognition, it indirectly reveals their altruism and selflessness.

Effective characterization helps create well-rounded and believable characters, making the story more engaging and relatable. It allows readers or viewers to become emotionally invested in the characters’ journeys and can be a powerful tool for conveying themes and messages within a narrative. Characterization is not limited to protagonists; it also applies to antagonists, supporting characters, and minor characters, all of whom contribute to the richness of the storytelling experience.

Essential Characterization Writing Tips: Dos and Don’ts

Analyzing characters in literature requires a thorough understanding of their traits, motivations, and development within the narrative. Here are essentials in a characterization analysis, each with a “Do” and a “Don’t” to guide your analysis effectively:

  1. Provide Specific Examples:
    • Do: Offer concrete evidence from the text, such as quotes or passages, to support your analysis of the character’s traits, actions, and dialogue.
    • Don’t: Make general statements without backing them up with textual evidence. Avoid vague or unsupported claims about the character’s personality.
  2. Analyze Motivations and Complexity:
    • Do: Delve into the character’s motivations, desires, fears, and inner conflicts. Explore their complexity and the factors that drive their decisions.
    • Don’t: Oversimplify the character’s motivations or present them as one-dimensional. Avoid relying solely on surface-level analysis.
  3. Consider Character Development:
    • Do: Examine how the character evolves or changes throughout the narrative. Analyze key moments or decisions that contribute to their growth or transformation.
    • Don’t: Neglect the character’s development or assume they remain static. Avoid treating the character as if they exist in a vacuum.
  4. Discuss Relationships and Interactions:
    • Do: Analyze how the character interacts with others in the story. Consider their relationships, conflicts, and the impact of these interactions on their development.
    • Don’t: Isolate the character from their social or narrative context. Neglecting their relationships can limit your analysis.
  5. Explore the Author’s Intentions:
    • Do: Consider the author’s purpose and intentions in creating the character. Analyze how the character serves the story’s themes, messages, or social commentary.
    • Don’t: Make assumptions about the author’s intentions without evidence. Avoid speculative interpretations that stray too far from the text.
  6. Recognize Symbolism and Foreshadowing (if applicable):
    • Do: Investigate whether the character may represent broader themes, concepts, or societal issues. Discuss any symbolic elements associated with the character.
    • Don’t: Force symbolism where it doesn’t exist or overemphasize minor details as symbolic without adequate support.
  7. Offer a Balanced Assessment:
    • Do: Acknowledge both the character’s strengths and flaws. Provide a well-rounded analysis that highlights complexity and contradictions.
    • Don’t: Oversimplify the character as purely good or purely evil. Avoid one-sided or biased interpretations.
  8. Connect to the Larger Narrative:
    • Do: Explain how the character’s actions, decisions, or development contribute to the larger narrative’s themes, conflicts, or resolutions.
    • Don’t: Isolate the character analysis from the overall context of the story. Show how the character fits into the bigger picture.
  9. Consider Cultural and Historical Context:
    • Do: Reflect on how the character may be influenced by the cultural and historical context of the narrative. Analyze how societal norms and values impact their behavior.
    • Don’t: Analyze the character in isolation from the time and place in which they exist. Neglecting context can lead to a superficial analysis.

By following these “Do” and “Don’t” tips, you can create a comprehensive and insightful characterization analysis that explores the depth and complexity of the character within the context of the narrative.


Here are examples of characterization from various literary works:

  1. Characterization of Tessie Hutchinson in “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson:
    • Direct Characterization: Tessie is introduced as a seemingly ordinary and cheerful woman who arrives late to the lottery, apologizing and making light of her tardiness.
    • Indirect Characterization: Tessie’s reactions to the unfolding events in the story reveal her initial complacency and her transformation into a desperate and fearful individual as she realizes the horrific nature of the lottery.
  2. Characterization of Louise Mallard in “The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin:
    • Direct Characterization: Louise is described as a woman with a heart condition who is initially believed to be grieving the loss of her husband.
    • Indirect Characterization: Louise’s thoughts and emotions, revealed through her inner monologue, portray her as a complex character who experiences a mix of sorrow, liberation, and self-discovery upon learning of her husband’s death.
  3. Characterization of Emily Grierson in “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner:
    • Direct Characterization: Emily is introduced as a reclusive and eccentric woman from a once-prominent family in a Southern town.
    • Indirect Characterization: Through the narrative’s non-linear structure and flashbacks, the reader gains insight into Emily’s increasingly isolated and disturbed state, as well as her complex relationship with her community.
  4. Characterization of Mr. Summers in “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson:
    • Direct Characterization: Mr. Summers is portrayed as the jovial and official figure responsible for conducting the lottery in the town.
    • Indirect Characterization: His efficient and business-like approach to the lottery, as well as his casual demeanor, contrasts sharply with the horror of the event, highlighting the ritualistic nature of the town’s tradition.
  5. Characterization of Mrs. Mallard in “The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin:
    • Direct Characterization: Mrs. Mallard is initially characterized as a woman with a heart condition who is informed of her husband’s death.
    • Indirect Characterization: Her emotional journey and brief moments of liberation, as depicted through her inner thoughts and reactions, convey the depth of her character and her desire for personal freedom.
  6. Characterization of Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee:
    • Direct Characterization: Atticus is described as a principled lawyer and a moral compass for his children. He is often referred to as “the fairest man in Maycomb.”
    • Indirect Characterization: Atticus’s actions, such as defending Tom Robinson, a black man wrongly accused of rape, showcase his commitment to justice and racial equality. His calm demeanor and ability to see the world from others’ perspectives reveal his empathetic nature.
  7. Characterization of Lady Macbeth in “Macbeth” by William Shakespeare:
    • Direct Characterization: Lady Macbeth is described as ambitious and ruthless. In Act 1, Scene 5, she implores the spirits to “unsex” her and fill her with cruelty.
    • Indirect Characterization: Her manipulation of Macbeth into committing regicide, her sleepwalking, and her eventual descent into madness illustrate her complex and tormented psyche. These actions reveal the consequences of unchecked ambition.
  8. Characterization of Sherlock Holmes in Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes” series:
    • Direct Characterization: Holmes is directly characterized as a brilliant detective, a master of deduction, and a logical thinker.
    • Indirect Characterization: His meticulous attention to detail, his use of deductive reasoning, and his tendency to play the violin when deep in thought all reveal his keen intellect and singular focus on solving mysteries.
  9. Characterization of Huckleberry Finn in “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain:
    • Direct Characterization: Huck is often described as a mischievous and independent young boy who has a distaste for rules and societal norms.
    • Indirect Characterization: Through Huck’s narrative voice and his actions, the reader gains insight into his free-spirited nature, his moral dilemmas, and his evolving views on race and slavery as he travels down the Mississippi River.
  10. Characterization of Severus Snape in the “Harry Potter” series by J.K. Rowling:
    • Direct Characterization: Snape is initially presented as a stern and sometimes cruel teacher at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
    • Indirect Characterization: As the series progresses, Snape’s complex past and motivations are gradually revealed. His unwavering love for Lily Potter, his sacrifices, and his role as a double agent contribute to a multifaceted portrayal of his character.
  11. Characterization of Scout Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee:
    • Direct Characterization: Scout is introduced as a young girl with a sharp wit and a penchant for curiosity. She is described as the daughter of Atticus Finch.
    • Indirect Characterization: Through Scout’s narrative voice and her interactions with other characters, her innocence, empathy, and evolving understanding of social injustice are revealed.
  12. Characterization of Mrs. Emily Brent in “And Then There Were None” by Agatha Christie:
    • Direct Characterization: Mrs. Brent is portrayed as a devoutly religious and judgmental woman who adheres strictly to her moral code.
    • Indirect Characterization: Her thoughts, actions, and reactions to the unfolding mystery on the isolated island gradually unveil her rigid and unforgiving nature, making her a suspect in the novel’s series of murders.
  13. Characterization of Montresor in “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe:
    • Direct Characterization: Montresor is presented as a man who believes he has been wronged by Fortunato and harbors a desire for revenge.
    • Indirect Characterization: Montresor’s cunning, manipulative nature, and his methodical planning of Fortunato’s demise are gradually unveiled through his inner thoughts and actions, culminating in a chilling revelation.
  14. Characterization of Miss Maudie Atkinson in “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee:
    • Direct Characterization: Miss Maudie is introduced as a kind-hearted neighbor of the Finch family who enjoys gardening.
    • Indirect Characterization: Her interactions with Scout and Jem, her positive influence on the children, and her unwavering support of Atticus reveal her wisdom, warmth, and progressive outlook in the racially divided town of Maycomb.
  15. Characterization of the narrator in “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman:
    • Direct Characterization: The narrator is described as a woman suffering from postpartum depression who is confined to a room by her husband.
    • Indirect Characterization: The narrator’s descent into madness and her obsession with the patterns on the wallpaper are revealed through her journal entries. Her struggle for autonomy and her growing sense of isolation and frustration are central to her characterization.
  16. Characterization of Ebenezer Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens:
    • Direct Characterization: Scrooge is introduced as a miserly and cold-hearted old man who values wealth and greed over compassion.
    • Indirect Characterization: Through his interactions with the ghosts and his transformation over the course of the story, Scrooge’s character evolves from a curmudgeon to a kind and generous individual who learns the true meaning of Christmas.
  17. Characterization of Holden Caulfield in “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger:
    • Direct Characterization: Holden is described as a disillusioned teenager who struggles with alienation and disdain for societal hypocrisy.
    • Indirect Characterization: The novel’s first-person narrative style allows readers to delve into Holden’s thoughts, observations, and experiences, revealing his cynicism, vulnerability, and longing for authenticity.
  18. Characterization of Lennie Small in “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck:
    • Direct Characterization: Lennie is portrayed as a physically strong but mentally challenged man who relies on his friend George for guidance.
    • Indirect Characterization: Lennie’s actions, such as his childlike enthusiasm for petting soft things and his tragic inability to control his strength, convey his innocence and vulnerability in a harsh world.
  19. Characterization of Clarisse McClellan in “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury:
    • Direct Characterization: Clarisse is described as an eccentric and inquisitive teenage girl who befriends the novel’s protagonist, Guy Montag.
    • Indirect Characterization: Through her conversations with Montag and her unconventional way of thinking, Clarisse is characterized as a free spirit who questions the conformity and superficiality of her dystopian society.
  20. Characterization of Mr. Hyde in “Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” by Robert Louis Stevenson:
    • Direct Characterization: Mr. Hyde is portrayed as a sinister and violent alter ego of Dr. Jekyll.
    • Indirect Characterization: The fear and revulsion elicited by Mr. Hyde’s actions, as well as his physical appearance, including his deformities, serve to characterize him as a malevolent and destructive force.

These examples illustrate how authors use both direct and indirect characterization to create well-developed and multifaceted characters within their narratives. Through descriptions, actions, thoughts, and dialogue, authors provide readers with a deeper understanding of the characters’ personalities, motivations, and complexities.