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Characterization Definition: Characterization is the traits an author uses to create and develop a character in a story.


Characterization is one of the most important parts of a fictional story, because a memorable character can connect on an emotional level with the reader. Characterization is the attribution of physical, emotional, and personality traits to a fictional character in a story. It is accomplished in two ways: directly and indirectly.

Direct characterization occurs when the author or narrator directly describes the traits of a character. For instance, a narrator may describe a character’s age, height, and goals to the reader. Indirect characterization occurs when a character’s traits are revealed through their actions, dialogue, and interactions with other characters. For example, a reader might learn that a character is angry with another character when they sneer at them or talk to them in short, one-word answers.

Authors use characterization to create round and flat characters. Round, or dynamic, characters have complex personalities that are revealed throughout the story. Dynamic characters often evolve, change, or mature by the end of the story. Flat, or static, characters have limited personalities and generally do not change, evolve, or mature throughout the story. Some of the most complex and memorable characters in literary history come from authors who were not afraid to reveal their strengths, weaknesses, fears, and flaws.

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Characterization Examples

“My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun; / Coral is far more red than her lips’ red…” is an example of direct characterization in “Sonnet 130” by William Shakespeare.

“Throwing a regal homecoming glance around the neighborhood, Mrs. Wilson gathered up her dog and her other purchases, and went haughtily in.” This quote from The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald reveals that Myrtle views herself above her surroundings, in spite of the fact that she is poor.

Bob Ewell from To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee is an example of a flat, or static, character. By the end of the novel, his anger and prejudice that led him to beat Mayella and set Tom’s trial in motion has not changed, and it results in his untimely demise.

Pip is an example of a round, or dynamic, character in Great Expectations by Charles Dickens because while he starts off as a young boy in search of riches and status, he eventually comes to realize through his mistakes and mistreatment of others that wealth does not bring happiness.

Learn more about various devices in literature in our Picture Encyclopedia of Literary Elements!
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