Characterization makes stories come to life! It focuses on creating fictional characters, from their physical appearance to their personality, views, and actions. Characterization is also known as character development.

What is characterization in literature?

So, what do we mean by characterization? Characterization is how an author or a playwright describes or shows what a character is like.

A combination of factors can influence characterization, including dialogue, narrative choices, and literary devices deliberately crafted to make the character appear in a particular light.

Why is characterization important?

Characterization is essential for sculpting a story-driven work, as it allows characters to be modeled realistically and develop traits that aid the narrative.

For readers or an audience to feel invested in the plot of a book or play, they need to believe that the characters involved are individuals. Part of that involves these characters behaving believably, according to their constructed persona.

It’s the process of characterization that makes this happen.

What are the different types of characters?

The characters also help us to feel connected to the story. They should be authentic and relatable – someone we believe we could meet in real life. Have you ever rooted for a character or felt empathy toward them? Perhaps you can think of a few characters you loathe. When this happens, it’s a sign of solid characterization. Check out the different characters your students might come across in their stories.

  • The hero: The hero or the protagonist is the main character and the person the story is written about. The writer usually develops the plot around the hero. For example, the plot may revolve around something the hero wants or a problem they must solve.
  • The villain: Every hero needs a villain, right? This person opposes or fights against another character (usually the hero/ protagonist). They may have their plot or mission in the tale that the hero is trying to stop.
  • Supporting characters: The supporting characters are anyone who isn’t the hero, villain, or love interest. These can be the protagonist’s friends and family or people they meet along the way. They tend to be flat characters.

How do authors make characters?

So, now that we know that authors use characterization to make their characters believable, how exactly do they do that?

Typically, authors know all about their characters before they even start writing. This helps them to build characterization through the language they use.

When designing characters, they might think about questions such as:

  • What is the character’s name?
  • How does the character behave? (Do they behave differently alone than when around people?)
  • How old are they?
  • Where are they from?

Once they have the basics of characterization down, the author might dig even deeper into their character with questions such as:

  • What’s their family like?
  • Did they have a good upbringing?
  • What do they want?
  • What’s stopping them from getting what they want?
  • How do they handle their emotions?
  • How are they feeling at the start of the story?
  • What are they thinking at the beginning of the story?

Knowing the answers to these questions will inform how they write about that character.

Authors may answer these questions for several characters in their story – that’s a lot of people to get to know!

Direct vs. Indirect Characterization

When writing, you may have heard of the phrase ‘show, don’t tell.’ This also applies to characterization.

When we write characters, we can describe their feelings and actions directly or indirectly.

When we describe them directly, we explain their feelings to the audience.

  • She was feeling nervous.

When we describe them indirectly, we give the reader an impression of what they’re feeling through descriptions of their appearance and their actions.

  • She bit down on her lip, her thoughts racing through her mind. Her hands shook as they held the interview notes.

Comparing these two different descriptions, we see more characterization through the indirect description than the direct one.

By indirectly describing characters’ thoughts and feelings, we can paint a much clearer picture of their characterization to the audience.

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