What Is Indirect Characterization?

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  • Written By: April S. Kenyon
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 13 November 2018
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Character personalities in novels, prose, or any other literary work are represented to the audience by either indirect or direct characterization. Through direct characterization, the author tells the reader about those characteristic traits. In contrast, indirect characterization shows the reader those characteristics. This form of characterization is generally accomplished through a combination of speech, thoughts, effects, actions, and looks, known as the STEAL method.

The first method of indirect characterization is to use speech in a manner that adequately represents the character and reveals certain qualities about the individual. The traits and personality of characters are revealed to the reader through the use of dialogue. This speech may be spoken by an individual character, revealing certain characteristics about himself, or it may be dialogue spoken by another character about the individual.

This form of characterization also requires that the author convey certain personality and characteristic traits through the thoughts of the characters. Many novels and other works of literature reveal the private feelings and thoughts of a character to the reader. For example, instead of simply stating, “Adam felt sad,” which would be an example of direct characterization, the author might convey Adam’s sadness to the reader by revealing the character’s private thoughts. Through indirect expression of thoughts and feelings, readers might be able to develop a better understanding and closer relationship with the character.


A third method is to show the effect the character has on other individuals. This is generally accomplished by revealing the thoughts and actions of the other characters in relation to the individual. The author must show how the other characters feel about the individual as well as how they interact with the character. This method is perhaps one of the trickiest to accomplish because it is somewhat of a double characterization, meaning the author must show the reactions of other characters to reveal the effect and indirect characterization of the individual in question.

The final two methods are achieved by revealing the character’s actions and looks. Instead of simply telling the audience what the character’s actions are, the author shows the actions by revealing the individual’s behavior. For example, if Adam is excited, the author shows this by revealing Adam’s actions instead of stating, “Adam was excited.” In the same manner, a character’s physical characteristics are revealed to the reader through indirect methods, such as saying, “Adam’s clear blue eyes sparkled with anticipation.”


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