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What Is Direct Characterization?

Direct characterization may depend on the tone of the prose, and what the author feels is important to convey.
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  • Written By: Ken Black
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 10 December 2014
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Direct characterization is the process by which an author tells the reader something about a character's specific traits. In this case, the writer simply tells the reader what he or she wants the reader to know. Direct characterization is in contrast to indirect characterization, the latter being a process by which the author reveals information through the thoughts, words, or actions of the character. Both have a place in literature, but there are times when one method is generally preferred over the other.

In terms of description, direct characterization is often the easier thing to do for most writers. Many critics and teachers also consider it to be more unimaginative and boring than indirect characterization. Still, the choice on which technique to use is often an individual preference of the writer. It may also depend on the overall tone of the prose and what the author feels is most important to convey at that particular point.

As one example, direct characterization would be an author telling readers that a character abuses animals for no reason. Indirect characterization would describe the individual kicking a small puppy as he walks by on a sidewalk, and perhaps later being questioned by other characters about his motives. In both cases, the reader is left with information about how the person feels about animals. In the latter case, the writing may be more descriptive, but also generally takes more words and more time.

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While direct characterization may not be the most popular literary tool at the present time, some famous authors have used it. Ernest Hemingway, who often wrote in a minimalist style and was not known for wasting words, made use of this type of characterization very often. That allowed Hemingway to write in a very unique style that was characterized by short, direct, and active voice sentences.

Outside of literary writing, this type of characterization is often used in non-fiction writing, especially in newspaper and magazine writing. In such writing, the main point is to convey as much information in as little space as possible. Therefore, indirect characterization may take up a lot of unnecessary space. Some journalists may use indirect characterization only when writing a feature story where they are give more literary freedom and are using a more narrative style.

The other benefit to direct characterization is that it does not give the reader the chance to misinterpret what the author wants the reader to understand about the character. In some cases, a reader could may get the wrong idea, or interpret that a thought was based on a misunderstanding, or that an action was likely a mistake. When the author tells the reader directly, there is little chance of that taking place.

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