How to Write a Character Analysis

In this guide you will find out:

  • What is a character analysis
  • What does character analysis mean
  • How to do a character analysis
  • How to write a character study

What is a Character Analysis

By definition, a character analysis is the process of evaluating the specific traits of a literary character. This will include consideration of additional elements such as the role they play in the story and the various conflicts they experience.

When analyzing a character, it is crucial to remain critical, ask concise analysis questions, and base your conclusions about each character being analyzed on the three areas mentioned earlier.

Typically, an author will use great detail when describing the outward appearance of the character. As a reader, you are usually capable of deducing the age of the character, their body size, their ethnicity and many other relevant characteristics.

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The writer may even reveal specific character traits, being the behaviour, motivation, personality or even relationship habits of the character. Taking the time to clearly analyze these elements will allow you to begin to develop the framework of the character’s inward and outward qualities.

What does character analysis mean

More often than not, experienced writers tend to not directly mention the traits of the characters in their books; it is up to the reader to be mindful in catching these traits as the storyline progresses.

Character analysis means not only picking up on the subtle hints that the author may use to develop their characters, but also reading between the lines and noticing the tiny details that might, at first, seem insignificant.

For example, you might encounter a passage in a book, like the one below, which draws attention to an external personality trait.

As Jessica gazed upon the tiny heart shaped pendant, her pulse quickened and she could barely contain her giddiness as she asked Tyler to fashion it around her neck.

A different example may be a character who has gone through several catastrophic experiences in the storyline, but ends up experiencing a proverbial happy ending. The writer may not have necessarily come outright and states that the character is strong, or brave, or even worthy, but you are able to conclude that a character trait exists simply by analyzing the behaviours of a character in the book.

How to do a character analysis

Analyzing a character, particularly an interesting character, can be fun. It requires a certain degree of investigative theory and a keen desire to understand the ‘personality’ of a person who isn’t really a person, but rather someone else’s creative process. Luckily, for the majority of us, conducting a character analysis doesn’t require a strong knowledge of the human psyche or Freudian theories.

Here are the things to look at when completing a character analysis:

  1. Motivation: What are the underlying reasons for why the character being analysed acts the way they do? Why so they make the choices they make? Do they act impulsively? Do they act ethically?
  2. Actions: How does the character act? How do their actions affect those around them? Are they the type to thwart wrongdoings? Or are they devious and mischievous? Similar to real life, the way that a character acts says a lot about who they are.
  3. What do they say: Does the character appear to have a strong grasp of education? Do they use a lot of slang? Do they use generational phrases? Perhaps they speak as though they are a detective or a cheerleader? Do they say things like ‘the bee’s knees’ or ‘blessed be’? Many books do not have the added advantage of having photos or pictures, so the author must paint the character using words – words have value.
  4. Descriptions: How do those who interact with the character describe them? How does the character describe themselves? These descriptions can be physical, they can be judgemental, even emotional.
  5. Names: Consider a character named “Problem Pete”, or one named “Little Alice”, what sort of imagery does this convey? Do you find yourself making assumptions based on those names? Of course you do, that is exactly what the author wants to happen.

How to write a character study

There are several different types of characters, each playing a small part in one very large puzzle. Characters can be good, characters can be bad, insignificant, or even stereotypical.

Here are the types of characters that you might encounter in your reading.

Type of CharacterCharacter Description
ProtagonistThe protagonist is most typically the main character in the story. The most important trait of the protagonist is that they absolutely MUST do something – they must move the story forward. If a character were to just merely allow things to carry on around them, then they would not be very interesting.
AntagonistThe antagonist is the character that everyone loves to hate. They exist to cause conflict for the protagonist. This is where you would explore MOTIVATION.
Major CharacterA major character will play a large role in the story, and may even be classified under multiple character categories. For example, you could have a protagonist with two close friends, but only one of them is a major character – the other might be a dummy. It is up to you to explore their interactions and figure things out.
Minor CharacterJust as it sounds, minor characters play smaller roles. They fade in and out of the storyline. They are often stereotypes or static characters.
Dynamic CharacterA dynamic character will expand and change. Both the protagonist and the antagonist are often found to be dynamic.
Static CharacterA static character will stay just as they are throughout the entire story. This isn’t to say that they are not worth analyzing, the reason for their lack of change might be what you explore.
StereotypesAuthors often use these types of characters to fill up space. Everyone knows the typical jock, the boring housewife, the geek, so no further explanation is needed.

Character analysis outline

As you continue to analyze the character, you may find that they fit into one, two or maybe even three specific character categories, and that is okay. Your goal is to describe the personality of the character, their role in the story and the value they bring.

  1. Describe the personality of the character. Readers are introduced to the characters in the books they read through the words the characters use, the emotions they experience and the things they do. It is relatively easy to determine the personality of a character based on their outward behaviors.

As the story develops, you will receive small hints about the personality of a character through the things they say, the way they act, how they move, and the mannerisms they have.

Ultimately, you will discover that the character fits into one of the character categories mentioned above.

  1. Explore the role that the character plays. When writing a character analysis, it is also necessary to define the role of that character.

Asides from expressing unique character traits, the character will also fit into a specific role in the story. This will either be a major role, as a key component of the story or a minor role, as a smaller and less significant component of the story.

  1. Outline the growth and development of the character. In order to complete your analysis, you will need to be able to explain how the character matures and changes as the plot progresses.

The majority of characters will go through several changes through the course of story. Pay attention to whether the character becomes stronger, falls apart, enters into new relationships, learns something new about themselves, etc. Note any areas or scenes when these changes occur. You may be alerted to these with cues like “it was then that he realized…” or “suddenly, for the first time in years, she…”

Useful information: How to do a research paper outline?

Character analysis essay outline example

Similar to nearly all other types of essay, the character paper will consist of an introduction, a body, and a conclusion.

Introduction: A good introduction is a glue that binds the entire essay together. It makes a statement or asks a question. It alerts the reader of what is to come. You should write a brief description of the character being analysed in order to generate interest.

Body: The body paragraphs should be organized and divided in a way that groups likeminded ideas or information together, but follows the sequence of the key points mentioned in the introduction. The body should address the following:

  1. What are the physical attributes of the character? What do they look like? What is their personality? What is their background?
  2. What conflicts does the character experience? How do they overcome there? If they don’t, why?
  3. What can the reader learn from the character? What are the key takeaways or important lessons?

Conclusion: The conclusion is the part which summarizes your essay. This is where you will have one final opportunity to not only restate your thesis but also highlight the most important traits or findings from your analysis of the character in question. It is in good practice to paraphrase two or three of the points made in the body paragraphs and provide a couple of examples for each. You may choose to use a quote that you feel represents the character, or speculate where they would fit into the ‘real world’.

If it still seems confusing, do not hesitate to refer to the experts in writing a character analysis.

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