Characterization, the arts of revealing fictional characters’ natures and also personalities, has numerous facets. There are two main ways to disclose characters: straight characterization, and also indirect characterization. What defines these two characterization types, and what space the strengths and weaknesses the each? review on for tips and examples native literature:


Characterization, the art of revealing fictitious characters’ natures and personalities, has plenty of facets.There are two main ways to reveal characters: direct characterization, and also indirect characterization. What specifies these two characterization types, and also what are the strengths and weaknesses that each? review on for tips and also examples from literature:

What are direct and also 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 current emotional state explicitly.

Example of direct characterization

Here’s an instance of straight characterization native Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse (1927). Woolf clearly shows what personalities think the one another. Because that example, an artist remaining with the Ramsay family, Lily Briscoe, thinks about a male Mr. Bankes that has referred to as Mr Ramsay a hypocrite:

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

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

In comparison to straight characterization, ‘indirect characterization’ shows readers your characters’ characteristics without clearly describing them. What types of indirect characterization are there? any writing the helps us infer or deduce things around a person’s personality. For example:

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

Example that indirect characterization

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

‘Joad took a rapid drink from the flask. The dragged the critical smoke native his raveling cigarette and then, through callused thumb and also forefinger, crushed out the glowing end. The rubbed the target to a pulp and also put it out the window, letting the breeze suck that from his fingers.’ (The Grapes that Wrath, p. 9)

So how do you use direct and indirect characterization well? read tips because that each:

Using straight characterization: 4 tips

Don’t overdo itUse straight characterization for an essential character detailsUse straight characterization relevant to arcsFocus ~ above the unique and specific

Don’t overdo it

Direct characterization is convenient. You can offer readers information around your characters quickly, in a solitary phrase or sentence. Because that example, this direct character description of mr Bounderby in Charles Dickens’ Hard Times(1854):

‘So, grandfather Bounderby threw ~ above his cap – he always threw that on, as expressing a man who had actually been much too busily work in making himself, to acquire any kind of fashion of wearing his hat.’ (p. 26)

In Dickens’ novel, affluent Mr Bounderby constantly speak others about his impoverished background and also what a self-made male he is. This straight characterization (his theatrically indifferent way of cram on his hat) says his haste, his gift ‘a busy man with important things to do’. Its thus fits his persona and backstory.

Keep direct characterization, as lot as possible, to concise info relevantto your story. Blend direct and indirect characterization to construct your characters. Too much explicittelling about your characters’ personalities, at the cost of showing, can make lock feel like bland collection of summary nouns there is no specificity. Because that example, right here is negative direct characterization:

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

This doesn’t provide us specifics: exactly how does he look, since of these qualities? What is the this male fears?


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Use straight characterization for key character details

When introducing characters for the an initial time particularly, use direct characterization to give readers important details. It’s much easier to remember merely states facts, e.g. ‘She to be a sort woman.’ Consider, because that example, our very first introduction come the character called ‘Mother’s Younger Brother’ (we’ll abbreviate ‘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 also rode come the finish of the line. He to be a lonely, withdrawn young guy with blond moustaches, and was thought to be having an obstacle finding himself.’ (p. 4)

Doctorow uses straight characterization to display MYB’s melancholic nature. Together we review on, we learn MYBis in love with a well known chorus girl, Evelyn Nesbit. Doctorow passes into indirect characterization, describingthe posters that Evelyn ~ above the wall in MYB’s bedroom and also his stalking of her to show the level of his obsessive nature.

This activity – from simple, direct characterization to more comprehensive character details offered indirectly – create a feeling of character development. The straight characterization – MYB’s loneliness – is additionally relevant come his more comprehensive arc. Due to the fact that he eventually has a brief (but unsatisfying fling) v Evelyn.

Use direct characterization pertinent to arcs

Effective straight characterization helps us picture characters’ appearances and know their major goals, drives, and also motivations. Some physical description is important, especially on very first introduction. Yet the best physical summary often tells united state something around the character’s personality, too. And also even links to their story arc, together MYB’s ‘lonely’ nature in Ragtimedoes.

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

‘He was not over thirty. His eye were an extremely dark brown and also there to be a note of brown colors in his eyeballs. His cheek-bones to be high and wide, and strong deep lines cut down his cheeks, in curves besides his mouth <…> His hands to be hard, with broad fingers and nails together thick and also ridges as small clam shells. The an are between thumb and also forefinger and the hams that his hands were shiny with callus.’ (p. 3)

The summary of Tom Joad is fitting. Us see just how lined his confront is for a guy entering his thirties, and also the calluses ~ above his finger attest come a life of hard work. His aged appearance makes an ext sense once we later uncover Tom’s just been released from prison.

Focus on the unique and also specific

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

‘We wear lengthy wool coats through tie belts, the collars turned up to look choose those that movie stars, and also rubber boots through the top folded down and also men’s occupational socks inside.’ (p. 4)

This little bit the direct clothes description reflects us preteen girls who are discovering their independence. Atwood offers these details details come convey a solid sense the this age, as the girl become more independent and try appear an ext ‘grown up.’ this details make the characters’ age believable.

To write great direct characterization, describe details together as:

Clothing – what does that say around your character? Is their clothing sober, funky, revealing?Identity – does her character determine with a particular subculture (e.g. Punk)? What does this say about them?Personality – is your character mainly cheerful, sarcastic, melancholic? There’s no injury in the occasional abstract noun. Simply make sure to display this top quality through events, dialogue and other indirect way too

Using indirect characterization: 4 tips

Add dialogue because that indirect characterizationShow characters’ action to define their personalityUse indirect characterization to present consequencesUse emotive language to develop character in approach narration

Add dialogue because that indirect characterization

Great dialogue tells reader a lot about your characters. That a advantageous tool for developing subtle yet revealing indirect characterization. It’s truly worth reading an excellent play scripts for this reason, provided that phase works are mostly dialogue based. Consider, for example, this exchange in A StreetcarNamed Desire (1947)by Tennessee Williams:

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

Williams walk not need to tell us that Stanley is no a big talker and is a turbulent type. Indirect characterization here does the for him.

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

Show characters’ plot to explain their personality

Although Tennessee Williams could have a narrator in ~ the begin of his play saying ‘Stanley is one aggressive male chauvinist’, it would be odd. That would also pre-determine exactly how we check out him. Half the pleasure of reading is learning the characters. There’s more excitement and intrigue in learning around characters through degrees.

In Zora Neale Hurston’s novel Their eye Were city hall God (1937), the character Janie’s grandmother, Nanny, is eager for her to marry a wealthy man Logan Killicks. Through little actions, Hurston shows an initial Janie’s uncertainty around marrying a man she barely knows, and also then her exploration that ‘marriage did not make love’ the we’re told directly at the finish of the chapter. Before this realization, us see tiny signs through indirect characterization. Because that example, when she goes to visit Nanny after gaining married:

‘Janie didn’t walk in where Mrs Washburn was. She didn’t speak anything to complement up v Nanny’s gladness either. She just dropped on a chair v her hips and sat there.’ (p. 29)

This passive ‘just sit there’ suggests Janie’s despondent feelings.A build up of images of waiting and also stasis define Janie indirectly. They disclose her steady realization the she doesn’t love Killicks. Here, indirect characterization details build up come a major character development. The characterization defines the approaching adjust in Janie’s path.


Use indirect characterization to display consequences

One means of reasoning of straight characterization vs indirect characterization is come think the cause and effect. For example, the direct characterization that Mother’s Younger brothers in Ragtime (he is ‘lonely’) leads to the longer arc of his action (stalking a famed chorus girl).

Similarly, once we very first meet the fraudulent Mr. Bounderby in Charles Dickens’ Hard Times, Dickens reflects as straight how exaggerated everything Bounderbysays and also does is. Through indirect characterization, with Bounderby’s accumulated words and also actions, us understandthe the factors underlying hispompous behaviour.

Use emotive language to develop character in ideology narration

Everything from personality dialogue and actions come the words you choose to define settings can deepen characterization. For example, two different personalities could describe the very same setting completely differently. The method each defines this setup would reveal vital differences about them.

For example, imagine two siblings, John and Sarah, decide to investigatea secret abandoned residence on their street.

John is afraid. That believes in supernatural forces. He sees the residence as ominous and also mysterious:

‘As I method the home I view a shadow relocate quickly across an maximum ground window. I dash back to the gate and look up, squinting into the glare. All I see is the reflection of the sinewy oak in a corner of the weedy, unkempt garden.’

The truth John is checking the windows for movement, the truth he dashes earlier to the door – this indirect characterization details show that eerie goings on are on his mind. They reveal he has actually a fear nature, without explicitly saying so. Compare to Sarah’s visit:

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

Sarah’s observations show us the personality isn’t at the mercy of her creative thinking like John. We gain a sense of an elevation character that won’t it is in swayed by renowned opinion (‘people say’). The terse ‘any idiot’ indirectly mirrors Sarah’s character. She comes across as matter-of-fact, and maybe even a little closed-minded and judgmental.

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