Characterization, the art of revealing fictitious characters’ natures and personalities, has many facets. There space two main ways to disclose characters: direct characterization, and also indirect characterization. What defines these 2 characterization types, and also what space the strengths and weaknesses of each? read on because that tips and examples from literature:


Characterization, the arts of revealing fictitious characters’ natures and personalities, has many facets.There space two key ways to reveal characters: direct characterization, and also indirect characterization. What specifies these 2 characterization types, and what room the strengths and also weaknesses that each? read on for tips and examples indigenous literature:

What space direct and indirect characterization?

‘Direct characterization’ method the character details authors clearly describe.

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because that example, informing the reader a character’s desires, life viewpoint or existing emotional state explicitly.

Example of direct characterization

Here’s an example of direct characterization from Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse (1927). Woolf clearly shows what characters think the one another. Because that example, an artist staying with the Ramsay family, Lily Briscoe, thinks about a man Mr. Bankes who has referred to as Mr Ramsay a hypocrite:

‘Looking up, over there he was – Mr. Ramsay – advancing towards them, swinging, careless, oblivious, remote. A bit of a hypocrite? she repeated. Oh no – the most sincere of men, the truest (here he was), the best; but, feather down, she thought, he is took in in himself, the is tyrannical, the is unjust…’ (p. 52).

This is straight – Woolf describes Mr. Ramsay’s traits straight – his self-absorption and so forth.

In contrast to straight characterization, ‘indirect characterization’ shows readers her characters’ characteristics without explicitly describing them. What types of indirect characterization room there? any writing that helps united state infer or deduce things about a person’s personality. Because that example:

Dialogue – (where a character’s bossy, kind, mean, or other qualities come through)Actions – what a character does (for example jumping top top a beetle to squash it) reveals, incidentally, their character (in this instance that a personality is needlessly unkind or violent)Description– although associations different from nation to country, society to culture, exactly how a personality looks frequently gives indirect characterization. We could assume, for example, a pale-skinned character is antisocial and hides away from the sun, prefer the recluse Boo Radley inTo death a Mockingbird

Example that indirect characterization

Here, man Steinbeck inThe Grapes of Wrath reflects a character’s personality indirectly. He doesn’t say that hitchhiker Joad is a down-and-out, blue-collar worker. Instead, the indirect characterization offers the props a worker in the context would have actually – whiskey, cigarettes, calloused hand – to display Joad’s character.

‘Joad take it a fast drink from the flask. He dragged the critical smoke from his raveling cigarette and also then, with callused thumb and forefinger, crushed the end the glow end. The rubbed the butt to a pulp and also put it the end the window, letting the breeze suck the from his fingers.’ (The Grapes of Wrath, p. 9)

So just how do you use direct and also indirect characterization well? check out tips for each:

Using direct characterization: 4 tips

Don’t overdo itUse straight characterization for an essential character detailsUse direct characterization appropriate to arcsFocus top top the unique and also specific

Don’t overdo it

Direct characterization is convenient. You can provide readers information around your characters quickly, in a single phrase or sentence. Because that example, this straight character summary of grandfather Bounderby in Charles Dickens’ Hard Times(1854):

‘So, grandfather Bounderby threw on his hat – he always threw it on, together expressing a male who had been much too busily employed in do himself, come acquire any fashion of wearing his hat.’ (p. 26)

In Dickens’ novel, well-off Mr Bounderby constantly speak others about his impoverished background and also what a self-made male he is. This straight characterization (his theatrically indifferent method of cram on his hat) suggests his haste, his being ‘a busy guy with important things to do’. Its therefore fits his persona and backstory.

Keep straight characterization, as lot as possible, come concise info relevantto your story. Blend direct and indirect characterization to develop your characters. Too lot explicittelling about your characters’ personalities, at the price of showing, could make them feel like bland collections of abstract nouns without specificity. For example, below is bad direct characterization:

‘He was a hopeless man, a mix that dejected self-pity and also self-loathing, are afraid being the main reason of his state.’

This doesn’t provide us specifics: exactly how does the look, due to the fact that of these qualities? What is the this guy fears?


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Use straight characterization for crucial character details

When introducing characters for the an initial time particularly, use straight characterization to offer readers necessary details. It’s easier to remember just states facts, e.g. ‘She was a sort woman.’ Consider, for example, our an initial introduction come the character named ‘Mother’s Younger Brother’ (we’ll abbreviation ‘MYB’) in E.L. Doctorow’s standard novel Ragtime (1975):

‘Down in ~ the bottom that the hill Mother’s Younger brother boarded the streetcar and rode to the end of the line. He to be a lonely, withdrawn young guy with blond hair moustaches, and was thought to be having challenge finding himself.’ (p. 4)

Doctorow uses straight characterization to present MYB’s melancholic nature. Together we check out on, we discover MYBis in love with a famed chorus girl, Evelyn Nesbit. Doctorow passes right into indirect characterization, describingthe posters the Evelyn top top the wall in MYB’s bedroom and also his stalking of her to show the degree of his obsessive nature.

This motion – indigenous simple, straight characterization to wider character details offered indirectly – creates a sense of character development. The straight characterization – MYB’s loneliness – is additionally relevant come his broader arc. Due to the fact that he at some point has a quick (but unsatisfying fling) with Evelyn.

Use direct characterization pertinent to arcs

Effective direct characterization helps us snapshot characters’ appearances and know their main goals, drives, and motivations. Part physical description is important, specifically on an initial introduction. Yet the best physical description often tells us something around the character’s personality, too. And even links to your story arc, as MYB’s ‘lonely’ nature in Ragtimedoes.

Take one more description native Steinbeck’sThe Grapes of Wrath:

‘He was no over thirty. His eye were an extremely dark brown and also there was a hints of brown colours in his eyeballs. His cheek-bones to be high and wide, and solid deep lines cut down his cheeks, in curves besides his mouth <…> His hands were hard, with wide fingers and also nails as thick and ridges as tiny clam shells. The an are between thumb and also forefinger and also the hams that his hands to be shiny through callus.’ (p. 3)

The description of Tom Joad is fitting. Us see exactly how lined his challenge is because that a male entering his thirties, and the calluses on his finger attest come a life of difficult work. His aged appearance makes much more sense when we later discover Tom’s just been exit from prison.

Focus top top the unique and specific

Often, as beginning authors, we create character descriptions that finish at ‘she had actually blue eyes and also long brown hair’. However eye and also hair colour doesn’t tell us what this specific character has actually that nobody rather does. Instead, emphasis on specifics. Because that example, read exactly how Margaret Atwood describes childhood friend (or ‘frenemies’) in her novelCat’s Eye(1988). The protagonist Elaine is remembering she youth with a flashback, in the existing tense:

‘We wear lengthy wool coats through tie belts, the collars turned as much as look prefer those of movie stars, and rubber boots v the tops folded down and men’s occupational socks inside.’ (p. 4)

This tiny bit the direct apparel description reflects us preteen girls who are learning their independence. Atwood provides these specific details come convey a strong sense the this age, together the girl become an ext independent and shot appear an ext ‘grown up.’ this details make the characters’ period believable.

To write good direct characterization, explain details together as:

Clothing – what does it say about your character? Is their clothes sober, funky, revealing?Identity – does your character recognize with a details subculture (e.g. Punk)? What go this say about them?Personality – is your character mainly cheerful, sarcastic, melancholic? There’s no damage in the occasional summary noun. Just make sure to show this quality through events, dialogue and other indirect way too

Using indirect characterization: 4 tips

Add dialogue for indirect characterizationShow characters’ action to describe their personalityUse indirect characterization to present consequencesUse emotive language to develop character in philosophy narration

Add dialogue because that indirect characterization

Great dialogue tells reader a lot around your characters. The a helpful tool for developing subtle yet revealing indirect characterization. It’s truly worth reading good play scripts for this reason, offered that stage works are primarily dialogue based. Consider, for example, this exchange in A StreetcarNamed Desire (1947)by Tennessee Williams:

‘Stanley :Hey, there! Stella, Baby!Stella :Don’t holler in ~ me choose that. Hi, Mitch.Stanley:Catch!Stella:What?Stanley:Meat!Stella :Stanley! Where room you going?Stanley:Bowling!’ (p.1)

Williams walk not must tell us that Stanley is not a big talker and also is a stormy type. Indirect characterization here does that for him.

This very first exchange in between Stanley and also Stella reflects (in his short, barked answers) the he is a male of few words and some aggression. The truth Stella engages in pleasantries v Stanley’s friend (‘Hi, Mitch’) create stark comparison to Stanley’s limited focus: Meat and going bowling. Also though the phase direction says thecharacters should appear from various backgrounds, the indirect characterization in Williams’ dialogue already shows us exactly how starkly different they are.

Show characters’ action to define their personality

Although Tennessee Williams might have a narrator in ~ the start of his play speak ‘Stanley is an aggressive male chauvinist’, it would be odd. It would likewise pre-determine just how we read him. Half the delight of analysis is learning the characters. There’s more excitement and also intrigue in learning about characters through degrees.

In Zora Neale Hurston’s novel Their eye Were watching God (1937), the character Janie’s grandmother, Nanny, is eager for her to marry a wealthy male Logan Killicks. Through little actions, Hurston shows an initial Janie’s uncertainty around marrying a man she right knows, and then her discovery that ‘marriage did no make love’ the we’re told straight at the end of the chapter. Prior to this realization, we see small signs v indirect characterization. Because that example, as soon as she goes to visit Nanny after gaining married:

‘Janie didn’t go in wherein Mrs Washburn was. She didn’t speak anything to match up through Nanny’s gladness either. She just fell on a chair with her hips and sat there.’ (p. 29)

This passive ‘just sit there’ says Janie’s despondent feelings.A construct up of photos of waiting and stasis define Janie indirectly. They reveal her gradual realization the she doesn’t love Killicks. Here, indirect characterization details develop up to a significant character development. The characterization describes the approaching change in Janie’s path.


Use indirect characterization to present consequences

One method of thinking of direct characterization vs indirect characterization is come think of cause and also effect. Because that example, the direct characterization that Mother’s Younger brothers in Ragtime (he is ‘lonely’) leader to the much longer arc the his action (stalking a famed chorus girl).

Similarly, as soon as we very first meet the cheat Mr. Bounderby in Charles Dickens’ Hard Times, Dickens reflects as straight how exaggerated whatever Bounderbysays and does is. With indirect characterization, v Bounderby’s built up words and also actions, we understandthe the factors underlying hispompous behaviour.

Use emotive language to develop character in philosophy narration

Everything from character dialogue and also actions come the native you select to explain settings can deepen characterization. Because that example, two different personalities could describe the very same setting completely differently. The method each describes this setting would reveal vital differences around them.

For example, imagine 2 siblings, John and also Sarah, decision to investigatea mysterious abandoned residence on their street.

John is afraid. The believes in mythological forces. He sees the home as ominous and also mysterious:

‘As I method the home I see a shadow move quickly across an maximum ground window. Ns dash back to the gate and also look up, squinting into the glare. Every I watch is the enjoy of the sinewy oak in a corner of the weedy, unkempt garden.’

The truth John is check the windows for movement, the reality he dashes back to the gate – these indirect characterization details display that eerie goings on space on his mind. They reveal he has a fearful nature, without explicitly saying so. To compare to Sarah’s visit:

‘It doesn’t look at haunted to me. World say you deserve to see figures moving around upstairs once dusk arrives, but any type of idiot have the right to see it’s just the reflection of the oak tree in the garden, if there’s a breeze.’

Sarah’s observations present us the personality isn’t at the mercy that her creativity like John. We acquire a feeling of an live independence character who won’t be swayed by famous opinion (‘people say’). The terse ‘any idiot’ indirectly mirrors Sarah’s character. She comes across as matter-of-fact, and maybe even a tiny closed-minded and also judgmental.

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