Describing a character for a character analysis

by Dr Davis on May 25, 2008

A strong character analysis will:

  1. identify the type of character it is dealing with. 
  2. describe the character, using various measures as detailed below.
  3. discuss the conflict in the story, particularly in regards to the character’s place in it.

To describe the character:

Consider the character’s name and appearance.

  • Is the author taking advantage of stereotypes? The hot-tempered redhead, the boring brunette, the playboy fraternity guy.
  • Is the author going against stereotypes? The brilliant blonde, the socially adept professor, the rich but lazy immigrant.
  • Is the author repeating a description of the character? If so, then it is important. For example, Kathy in East of Eden is described as rodent-like and snake-like, “sharp little teeth” and a “flickering tongue.”
  • Is their name significant? Is it a word that means something, like Honor or Hero? Does it come from a particular place or time and make reference to that? Scarlett, Beowulf.
  • Appearance and visual attributes are usually far less important than other factors, unless their appearance is the point– such as in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Clothing also rarely matters, except to make him/her easier to visualize.

Consider if he/she a static (unchanging) or dynamic (changing) character. If the character has changed during the course of the story:

  • Was the change gradual or rapid?
  • Was it subtle or obvious?
  • Are the changes significant to the story or are they a minor counterpoint?
  • Are the changes believable or fantastic?
  • What was his/her motivation to change?
  • What situations or characters encouraged the change?
  • How does the character learn from or deal with the change?

Consider how the author discloses the character:

  • starBy what the character says or thinks.
  • By what the character does.
  • By what other characters say about him/her.
  • By what the author says about him/her.
  • The short form for this is STAR (says, thinks, acts, reacts).

 

Look for these things within the creation of the character:

psychological/personality traits
  • Do these characteristics aid in the character being consistent (in character), believable, adequately motivated, and interesting?
  • Do the characteristics of the character emphasize and focus on the character’s role in the story’s plot?
motivation
  • Is the character ethical? Is he/she trying to do the right thing, but going about it in the wrong way?
  •  Is the motivation because of emotion (love, hate) or a decision (revenge, promotion)?
behavior /actions
  • Does the character act in a certain way consistently?
  • Or is the character erratic?
  • Could one pluck the character from the story, put them in another story, and know how they would react?
relationships
  • With other characters in the story
  • How others see/react to him/her
weaknesses/faultslittle-red-riding-hood
  • Typical tragic weakness is pride.  Oedipus is proud.
  • Weakness could be anything.  In “Little Red Riding Hood,” the girl talks to a stranger.  That’s a weakness.
strengths/virtues
  • There are many different strengths and virtues.
  • One strength/virtue is being good in trying times, like Cinderella.
  • Another strength/virtue is caring for family, like Little Red Riding Hood.
  • Another strength/virtue is being smart, like Oedipus.
  • Most protagonists have more than one strength/virtue.
moral constitution
  • Often a character will agonize over right and wrong.
  • If a character doesn’t agonize and chooses one or the other easily, that is also significant.
protagonist/antagonist
  • Does the story revolve around this character’s actions?
  • If so, is the character the hero (protagonist) or villain (antagonist)?
complex/simple personality
  • Personalities are more likely to be simple in children’s stories, fairy tales, and short stories.
  • Personalities are more likely to be complex in longer works.
  • Even in short works, such as “The Story of an Hour,” the character’s personality can be complex.  Then it depends on what the author was focusing on.
history and background
  • Sometimes a character analysis looks at the history of the individual character.  Was that person mistreated? abused? well-loved? liked?
  • Sometimes the history of the work matters more.  Is the story set in World War II?  In ancient Greece?  That makes a difference because culture changes stories.  If you don’t know the culture, though, you may not be able to comment on this.
similarities and differences between the characters
  • This could be the foil aspect again.  (See How to write a character analysis for a longer discussion.)
  • It could be looking at how characters complement each other.
  • It could be looking at why characters would be antagonistic.
character’s function in storycinderella
  • Is the character an integral character?  (Cinderella)
  • Is the character a minor character? (The wicked stepmother in “Cinderella”)
  • Is the character someone who could have been left out or is gratuitous? (The second wicked stepsister in “Cinderella.”)

If this post was helpful to you, please leave a note in the comments to let me know. You could point out what was most helpful, so that I will know what I might want to expand later.

Besides the links in the first paragraph, other sources on the website on this topic include:
How to Write a Character Analysis: Introduction
How to Write a Character Analysis: Body Paragraphs
How to Write a Character Analysis: Titles
How to Write a Character Analysis: Conclusion
Questions for Literary Analysis: Theme
Questions for Literary Analysis: Setting
Questions for Literary Analysis: Point of View

{ 3 trackbacks }

Week of Aug 16-21 | Learn to Rewrite with MGMeeks
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Unit 10.2: Research: Sherlock- Moriarty character analysis. – Kiera Bennett
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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Tarji8 01.31.09 at 11:35 am

Love these posts! Am a homeschooling mom (1 college grad, 2 in college, 3 at home) whose kids are doing a literature course in a tutorial session. Your descriptions are helping me be sure my kids understand what CA is, and how to do it. THANKS!

2 EWilson 02.06.09 at 2:03 pm

Thank you! My teacher has assigned a CA and has not really gone over what a CA is. Your post has helped tremendously! Thank you!

3 Christopher Seepe 04.20.09 at 8:48 pm

Excellent tutorial, Dr. Davis. I’ll definitely take your tutorial to heart. I have finished an historical fiction after 5 years of labor. The veteran editor loved the story but said my characters were all notably lacking depth and dimension. My next learning curve is now character development via character analysis.

Thank you again for this posting and its two supporting lessons.

4 Blair Kayanne 08.17.09 at 6:12 pm

THANKS A TON! im 13 and we were assigned a character analysis and were given no info. this helped a lot 🙂

5 Julie 08.23.09 at 10:42 am

Thank you! My daughter was assigned a character analysis, so I went through these questions with her and now she has a very clear idea of how to approach this paper!

6 Carla 10.07.09 at 12:15 am

Thank you! Wonderful outline for CA. Very clear and concise.

7 Joyce M. Bogusky 11.09.09 at 2:06 pm

Thanks. I love the way you used fairy tale characters. I do too at times but not the way did to explain character analysis.

8 Dan 11.18.09 at 3:32 pm

Thanks for the help!

The only problem I encountered was how to stretch all the information out to last for a five page paper….

9 Dr Davis 11.28.09 at 4:49 pm

This post is one of three on writing a character analysis on this blog particularly. There are also discussions of introductions, body, and conclusions. Since I spent more than five pages writing out things that you can do to analyze a character, I am fairly sure that following them all would allow you to write more than five pages.

10 Shena 04.23.10 at 1:42 am

Thank you soo much this was very beneficial to me and I think my teacher should recommend this for website for her students!!!

11 N Morga 01.17.11 at 8:25 pm

As a first year teacher, the information you provide is invaluable! You break the information down into manageable chunks, for me to be able to understand, and to present to my students. You will be my “unofficial” mentor for the rest of the year!

My goal is to prepare my students for college and beyond. Thank you, for knowing and understanding that a road paved with good intentions, can get a little murky!

12 Kierria 02.02.11 at 4:27 pm

WOW thank you so much- I kept scribbling on my paper trying to find direction until I came across this and it helped me immensely. Thank you!

13 Heather 03.19.12 at 5:15 pm

You could focus on the thesis statement more. I am still at a standstill and could use some more advice on that. I found this very helpful though.

14 College Student 04.09.12 at 6:18 pm

Thanks so much! My teacher didn’t specify exactly what a “character analysis” was and the short points helped me to write a small analysis before the due date.

15 Tiaworm 04.23.12 at 7:15 am

Thanks for the help, I’m writing a play for class and like to write often just for fun. I’m pretty good with most things, but I have trouble with character analysis and keeping him/her consistent. This helped me when I went through and re-wrote some of it to help me get a better understanding of how I needed to have my characters act.

16 Junoverse 08.11.12 at 1:44 am

Thank you for creating a structure to help me understand some of the important aspects of looking at a character. I find the information that you’ve given very helpful and constructive.

17 Milagros Jimenez 07.30.15 at 11:00 pm

Love it! Thank you.

18 Austin 03.09.16 at 3:54 pm

I enjoyed the references to common stories.

I didn’t enjoy the distracting extra characters.
’

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