This is the second half a two part series on Characterization. Read Part 1 here.

Yesterday, I talked about direct characterization where the general rule is we tell the reader what we want them to know. Today, I’ll discuss indirect characterization which is more involved and a lot more fun to write. This is where we show the reader the traits of a character.






To go back to To Kill a Mockingbird, here’s an example of indirect:


“First of all,” he said, “if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

This shows us Atticus is a compassionate man without anyone coming out and saying so. He doesn’t say he is either – he simply speaks his mind and his compassion comes through.

Here’s another example from my manuscript Songbird:

My mother’s eyes widened. “What happened to your hand, Emma? Jesus! Let me look at it.” She moved towards me and I raised my arm. She stopped, her mouth open.

Concentrating on the vodka, I pressed it to my body with my left arm and uncapped it with my right.

Only after pouring a good splash and tipping the glass to my mouth did I acknowledge Mom.

From this short passage – without being told – we know that Emma’s mother is a caring person because she shows concern for her daughter. We also know that Emma must be upset – she takes her time opening the vodka bottle, pouring and drinking it. She only acknowledges her mother after she does all that. We can also assume by the mother’s reaction (stopping short and leaving her mouth hanging open) that she isn’t used to be treated this way and it comes as a shock to her.

Bottom line: Direct Characterization is when we tell the reader about a character,  indirect is when we show the reader these traits. Both types are correct. But again, be careful not to overuse direct characterization or your characters will come off flat and one-dimensional.

Was this two part series helpful? Would you like to see more like this? What do you do to ensure your characters are well-rounded? Share your helpful tips at the bottom of this page in the comments section:

Read Part 1 here


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