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Rutherford High School RWC

Characters in Literature
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Characters in Fiction and Drama




Characterization-a description of a character; the writer can use the character’s private thoughts, speech, actions, feelings, physical description, anecdotes, or the writer may use a second or third character’s description of the character. Characterization portrays a main character in depth allowing readers to predict their actions. Reliable characterization will not depict a character doing something out of left field.

q      A character’s personal thoughts may tell the reader the character is insane (“Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe).

q      A character’s physical description may give insight through such descriptions as dress, physique, or posture.

q      A character’s use of diction may reveal the character is from the backwoods of Alabama (the characters of As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner) or England.

q      A character’s actions may reveal the character’s moral nature or temperament. Actions may reveal if the character is reckless or conservative.

q      Anecdotes reveal the character’s past and allow the reader to make their own decision about the character.

q      The thoughts or words of another character may reveal character.

q      Even a character’s name may suggest their personality or any character traits. 


Direct-The writer makes direct statements about a character, telling the reader what to think.


Indirect-The writer reveals information through a character’s actions, words, thoughts, or through any indirect characterization, showing the character to the reader.


Character Type

Dynamic-a character who goes through an internal change or position shift during the story; the change comes about through events in the plotline.


Static-a character who does not undergo a change during the story.


Character Description

Flat-a character with little dimension; may remind you of a cardboard cut-out, a paper doll, or an extra on a set; character is usually predictable.


Round-a complex character developed with dimension; usually one of the main characters; character has multiple traits of the character including any physical, emotional, and mental descriptions and the traits are described in depth.


Types of Characters

Main character- the protagonist and the most significant character; a character who wants something but something is in their way so they must overcome the challenge;


Minor characters-characters not major. HA!


Protagonist- the most significant character; a character who wants something but something is in their way so they must overcome the challenge; proto- is from the Greek prefix “first”; a hero is almost always the protagonist;


Antagonist-the character in conflict with the protagonist; may be a villain;


Hero (or heroine)-a character with some of the following traits: strong physically, emotionally stable, virtuous, fights for the good of the people, determines the fate of the people, may have a magic weapon or a spiritual guide;


Anti-hero- a hero lacking traditional hero qualities such as strength or courage; similar to the tragic hero in that the character may have some villainous qualities; reader would not expect them to “save the day”; ex.  The shy and weak Peter Parker transforms into Spiderman;


Tragic hero-a hero in a tragedy, put simple; one who is bound for greatness but falls to ruin due to their own flaw or an outside conflict.


Foil-a character who acts as a distinct contrast to another character; they exist to emphasize the qualities of the other character; ex. The “good” sister looks even better when contrasted against the “evil” sister; ex. “Kate the shrew” contrasted against her good sister Bianca in William Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew.


Villain-an evil character who opposes the protagonist (hero) and wants to keep the protagonist from achieving their goal;




Character Analysis


  1. Who are the principal characters?
  2. Are the characters original or stereotyped? Believable or unbelievable? Well-rounded or flat? Static or dynamic?
    1. How would you characterize the protagonist?
    2. Does he or she have internal or external conflicts? What are they?
    3. Does the protagonist appear to represent a group of people, a cause, or a set of values?
    4. What motivates the protagonist?
    5. How does the character change, and what causes the change?
    6. How does his social or economic status affect him?
    7. Does he influence the action? How?
    8. What is his sense of morals and his moral values?
    9. What is his philosophy on life?
    10. Is he entirely responsible for what happens to him, or is his fate largely determined by the outside forces beyond his control?
    11. How is the character revealed? Directly or indirectly? Through physical or emotional characteristics?
  4. ANTAGONIST: Who is the antagonist? One person or many?
  5. OTHER CHARACTERS: Who are they? How do they function in the work? Are they dynamic or static?
  6. STOCK CHARACTERS Are they archetypes?  a foil? Villain? Miser? Lover? Jester, joker, fool or clown? Reluctant hero? Clumsy hero? Fop, jokester, or trickster? Princess? Oddball? Sidekick? Schmoe? Town drunk? Wacky neighbor? Servant? Wise old man? Honest thief? Outlaw? Jock? Nerd? Genius? Rookie? Fighter? Mother? Prostitute? Child? Composer? Protector? Healer? Teacher? Eternal boy?
  7. STOCK GROUP: Are there groups of characters who represent a stock group? Dysfunctional nuclear family? A group of three girls where one is blonde, one is a brunette (and/or Black) and one is a redhead? The Ill-Fated Lovers? One representing the Whole (a central person or a nation stand for a bigger group)? Twins?
  8. Can you compare/contrast two characters in the text?
  9. Do they remind you of characters from other works?
  10. Which character interests you the most?  Why?
  11. Do characters change over time?  How?
  12. How does a specific character function in the work?  What’s his purpose?
  13. MOTIVATION: What motivates each of the characters? What do they want? What motivates their actions and influences their thoughts?
  14. CONFLICT: What’s in their way from getting what they want?
  15. RESOLUTION: What do they try to do to solve this?


Questions to ask when writing about CHARACTERIZATION

  1. How is the character revealed? Direct or indirect characterization?A description of their physical condition? What the author says? A description of their physical condition? What other characters say? Through action? What the character says (dialogue)? Through dialogue? What the character does (Action)? Through their thoughts?  What the character thinks? Through their manner of dress? Their name?


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