Other Literary Concepts:
Alliteration | Repetition | Point of View | Irony | Connotation | Plot | Personification

Characterization consists of all the techniques a writer uses to create and develop a character or characters. When you read a book, you find out about a character either through direct or indirect characterization. Direct characterization is what the author tells you directly. For example:

Bob is very intelligent.

Indirect characterization is not so easy to infer stuff from. However, we humans seem to have a knack for it. Indirect characterization means finding out about a character through one or more of the following, which can be remembered using the mnemonic BOAST:

  • Behaviors/Actions: How does the character act? What does the character do?
  • Others' Thoughts: What do other people think about the character? Do they think that the character is cool or stupid?
  • Appearance: What does the character look like? Does the character toss on dirty, wrinkled clothes and go to work, or does he/she wear only the best-looking clothes?
  • Speech: What does the character say? Does he/she talk "like, um, ya know, like this" or "due to the partially inconspicious fact that the hydraulics system is malfunctioning, and consequently..."?
  • Their Thoughts: What does the character think about themselves? Do they think they're stupid, or are they overconfident?

Here is an example of indirect characterization:

Bob designed a spaceship that travels faster than the speed of light, all in one night!

From this example, you can infer that Bob is very intelligent.

Fictional vs. Dramatic Characterization

There is a difference between fiction characterization and dramatic characterization. While the fiction author has the latitude to just inform the reader in prose, the dramatic author must have the characters unfold before the audience. The audience learns what the character is like just as they would if they met them in real life. This is, in my opinion, the true key between writers of fiction and drama.

I found it difficult to develop the characters using only their words to inform the audience as to the nature of their principles. I think that any writer of fiction can learn by writing a few one-act plays. It would help them to use the characters instead of just telling the readers some fact about the characters.

For an example, in A Streetcar Named Desire, Stella is a minor part in the grand drama between Stanley and Blanche, but the audience can pick up many of her characteristics by her words and actions. She idolized Blanche, and she still loved her sister, as seen by Stella breaking down when they hauled Blanche off to the asylum. We can also see that she loves Stanley, even though he hits her and delves a bit into mental abuse. The audience can set up Stella as someone we can all feel sorry for.

Char`ac*ter*i*za"tion (?), n.

The act or process of characterizing.


© Webster 1913.

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