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Elements of Characterization

8 Elements of Character from Edublogs

Jan 26th, 2006 by msansbach

When analyzing a character, we can break that character down in 8 elements to help us create a complete picture of who that person is. Note that there is some overlap on this.

Physical description: what the person looks like, dresses like, how the person carries herself, how sits and walks, etc. Anything that you can see about her that gives us clues to who she is. Please remember that authors create characters and choose these physical attributes as part of the character.

Background: Who is this person? Where was he or she raised, what does the character know how to do, what kind of jobs have they held, what special skills do they have, what education do they have, etc. How does their past experience that shapes who they become?

Personality: What kind of person is she? This includes demeanor, temperament, etc. Find actions that illustrate this or characters saying it. Examples include: shy, outgoing, angry, impulsive, fearful, etc. Note that this may change according to the circumstances, but a person’s personality usually guides how they respond to situations.

Relationships: How does the character get along with people? Do they have a lot of friends, or only a few close friends? Do they get along with her family? Why or why not? Do they hate everyone? Fall in love too quickly? Have an ongoing rivalry with a brother or sister?

Words and Actions: What does the person say and do, and what do others say about your character or do with or to him or her? Notice that not EVERYTHING someone says tells us about him or her. If you ask me a question and I give you a direct answer, then that’s not revealing. If I answer every question with, “Who wants to know?” that could be. Watch for topics the person talks about a lot, for example, or words that are repeated. Authors have a lot of words they can use; if the word is repeated, it’s probably important (please don’t tell me about “the” or “and”: you need to choose words that tell you something about the character). Watch also for what other characters say about your character both to her and behind her back. Is there a difference? What does that tell you?

Motivation: Why does your character do what he or she does? Note that motivations include money, fear, a desire for fame, need to prove parents wrong, need to prove parents right, etc. Their motivation may be what they want, such as money, or it could be what they are trying to get away from, such as fear. Note that the goal may or may not clear from the motivation. Put what they want in your description, too.

Conflict: Yes, I know, you learned some of this in middle school: man against man, man against himself, man against nature, and man verses society. Now, think about conflict this way: What is standing in the way of your character getting what he or she wants? Note that sometimes we can be in conflict with ourselves. Look at this carefully: it usually drives the plot (or, the sequence of events in the story).

Change: Don’t just tell me whether he or she changes over the course of the story. Tell me how he or she does that. Is he or she is nicer, or more considerate, etc. Not all characters change, by the way. James Bond never gets to the end of an adventure and says, “All these fast cars, women, and martinis are so shallow. I should join the Peace Corps and do something important with my life.” Some characters remain shy or brave through their entire storyline, but have changes in their lives that impact them; that is part of characterization.