Character
Who is the story
about?
Creating Characters
Creating characters—telling what human beings
are like—is the whole point of writing stories.
Character Development
Writers build characters by revealing
speech
appearance
others’ reactions
private thoughts
actions
Character Development
Quick Check
“Keep still, you little devil, or I’ll
cut your throat!”
A fearful man, all in coarse grey,
with a great iron on his leg. A man
with no hat, and with broken shoes,
and with an old rag tied round his
head. A man who had been soaked
in water, and smothered in mud,
and lamed by stones, and cut by
flints . . . ; who limped, and
shivered, and glared and growled;
and whose teeth chattered in his
head as he seized me by the chin.
from Great Expectations by
Charles Dickens
Which methods of
character
development are
being used?
What do you think
of the man based
on this excerpt?
Speech
First-person narrators reveal their
personal traits as they
• tell their own stories
(using pronouns like I,
me, and we)
• tell us what they think
and feel
Be aware that some firstperson narrators mislead or lie
to the audience.
Speech
Dialogue can reveal a lot about characters and
their relationships with each other. Pay attention to
• what characters say and don’t
say
• how characters respond to
each other
Appearance
Pay attention to language the writer uses to
describe the characters’ looks, clothes, and
demeanor.
The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his
pointed nose, shriveled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made
his eyes red, his thin lips blue. . . .
from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
• Does the description give you a positive or
negative impression of the character?
• Which words contribute to this impression?
Private Thoughts
Writers can take us into the characters’ minds to
reveal their thoughts and feelings.
As you read, note whether the characters’
thoughts and feelings match their speech and
actions.
How Other Characters Feel
Watch how other characters in the story react to
the character. Note
• how the others feel about the character
• what the others say about the character
Actions
What characters do and how they treat each other
often reveal the most about them.
Observe characters’ actions to determine
• what their personality is
like
• what motivates them
• how they deal with
conflict
Direct and Indirect Characterization
Direct Characterization—Writers tell us
directly what characters are like or what their
motives are.
Oh, but he was a tightfisted hand at the grindstone,
Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping,
scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner!
from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Indirect Characterization—Writers show us
characters (through speech, appearance, private
thoughts, other characters’ reactions, and actions) but
allow us to decide what characters are like.
Direct and Indirect Characterization
Quick Check
My sister, Mrs. Joe, with black hair and eyes,
had such a prevailing redness of skin that I
sometimes used to wonder whether it was
possible she washed herself with a nutmeggrater instead of soap. She was tall and bony,
and almost always wore a coarse apron,
fastened over her figure behind with two
loops, and having a square impregnable bib in
front, that was stuck full of pins and needles.
from Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Is this an
example of direct
or indirect
characterization?
What kind of
person do you
think this
character is?
Connecting with Characters
What draws readers into a story?
Vivid, complex characters whose
problems and triumphs draw forth
our emotions and reveal some
truth about humankind.
Main Characters
Protagonist—the main character of a story.
• The action of the story revolves
around the protagonist and the
conflict he or she faces.
Antagonist—the character or force
the protagonist struggles against
and must overcome.
Subordinate Characters
Subordinate characters
add depth and complication
to the plot.
Friends
Main character
Flat Characters versus Round Characters
Flat characters
• have only one or two
character traits that can
be described in a few
words
• have no depth,
like a piece of
cardboard
Flat Characters versus
Round Characters
Round characters
• have many different
character traits that
sometimes contradict
each other
• are much like real
people, with several
sides to their
personality
Dynamic Characters versus Static Characters
Dynamic characters
• change or grow as a result of the story’s
actions
• learn something about themselves, other
people, or the world as they struggle to resolve
their conflicts
The changes that a dynamic character undergoes
contribute to the meaning of the story.
Dynamic Characters versus Static Characters
Static characters
• do not change or grow
• are the same at the end of a story as they were
in the beginning
Subordinate characters are often static characters.
Conflict
External conflict—struggle between a character
and an outside force.
• character versus character
• character versus society
• character versus nature
Conflict
Internal conflict—struggle
between opposing needs or
desires or emotions within a
character.
• character versus himself
• character versus herself
Conflict
Quick Check
“Y’all git some stones,” commanded
Joey now and was met with instant giggling
obedience as everyone except me began to
gather pebbles from the dusty ground.
“Come on, Lizabeth.”
I just stood there peering through the
bushes, torn between wanting to join the
fun and feeling that it was a bit silly.
from “Marigolds” by Eugenia W. Collier
What type of
conflict does the
character face?
Motivation
Motivation—what drives a character’s actions. It
• explains behaviors
• reveals personality
• is often based on character’s fears, conflicts,
needs
Motivation can be inferred by observing characters’
behavior, speech, actions.
The End
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Elements of Literature: Character