What Are the Different Types of Characterization?

G. Wiesen

There are two major types of characterization commonly used in written works: direct characterization and indirect characterization. Direct characterization is used by an author in the narrative of a work and includes descriptions and comments that directly describe the nature and appearance of a character. In contrast to this, indirect characterization occurs outside of the narrative and usually includes dialogue, comments others make about a character, the actions of a character, and his or her thoughts. Both of these kinds of characterization are equally important, as they can be used by a writer in different ways and for different effects.

Traits such as selflessness are part of characterization.
Traits such as selflessness are part of characterization.

Regardless of which types of characterization a writer uses, the process of developing a character in a story is quite important. Characterization, in general, is the process of using different elements to give readers information about characters within a story. These allow a reader to become more attached to certain characters and to better understand relationships that develop between those characters.

The actions of a particular character can be described in a way that give a reader an idea of that character's personality.
The actions of a particular character can be described in a way that give a reader an idea of that character's personality.

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One of the main kinds of characterization is direct characterization. This is the use of direct descriptions and comments from a writer, within the narrative of a work, that provide readers with information about a character. A writer can use this type of characterization by writing something like “He was a hulking beast of a man, with a look as savage as his grating voice.” This gives the reader direct information about a character and requires little interpretation by the reader.

"He was a rude man," is an example of direct characterization.
"He was a rude man," is an example of direct characterization.

In contrast to this, indirect characterization is a somewhat more complicated form of characterization. Indirect characterization occurs within dialogue, through descriptions of a character’s actions, and the reactions of others to the character to give readers a sense of “who” characters are in a story. Direct characterization might include something like, “He was a rude man,” while indirect characterization could utilize descriptions of rudeness, such as, “He sat abruptly and barked out his food order,” to effectively say the same thing.

Both of these types of characterization are equally important and should be used together by a writer to give readers a greater understanding of the characters. Direct characterization is simple and to the point, but excess use of it can belabor meaning and feel contrived or boring. This comes down to the idea of “showing” rather than “telling” about actions and characters. While it may be easy for a writer to simply say “She was a resourceful woman,” it is often more rewarding for a reader to see a demonstration of this resourcefulness and come to understand that the character is resourceful.

Direct and indirect characterization can be used in literature.
Direct and indirect characterization can be used in literature.

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