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What Is Characterization?

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  • Written By: G. Wiesen
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 13 August 2014
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Characterization is a process by which a storyteller conveys information about a character to the audience of the story. This can be done in a number of ways, and typically serves to allow the audience to better understand the characters in the story. Direct characterization is the use of descriptive words to directly describe a character for the reader or audience. This is in contrast to indirect characterization, in which an author or other storyteller uses the actions, appearance, and other elements of a character to reveal information about him or her to the audience.

As an aspect of storytelling, strong characterization is one of the most important facets of a story a writer can develop. There are different methods that can be used to convey information about a character, and the methods often depend on the style of the storyteller and the medium of the story. In film, television, and comic books, for example, it is often easy to show a great deal of information about characters directly to the audience, since they can actually see the characters. Stories in a textual setting, such as books and radio, are somewhat different since words have to be used to express information about the characters.

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Direct characterization is a common way in which a storyteller can reveal information about a character, though in literature it is often seen as the weaker of the two methods. The direct method uses descriptive words, usually adjectives, to relay information about a character to the reader. Examples of this type of characterization include “The nervous cat,” “One talkative girl,” and “The overactive boy.” In all of these examples, direct descriptions are used — “nervous,” “talkative,” and “overactive” — to tell the reader information about the character.

While this type of characterization can be effective, it is often seen as a weaker form of storytelling, and many writers prefer to show details about the character to the reader. This can be accomplished in different ways, usually using the appearance, actions, or words of the character. A sentence like “The man strode through the room quickly, slammed his hand down upon the bar, and called out loudly for a drink,” is an example of indirect characterization. In this sentence, the reader can clearly see that the man is someone who seems to be in a hurry or at least has no time for distractions, and may be upset or at least is antagonistic in nature. All of these details are conveyed through the description of the man’s actions, not by stating “The agitated man was in a hurry and rudely ordered a drink.”

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