This is the first of two posts on characterization.


When you’re trying to figure out who your character is, it’s like trying to identify a different species.

Sometimes it goes well…

Sometimes it doesn’t…







So, how do you characterize? Let’s begin with what characterization is.

According to


1. portrayal; description: the actor’s characterization of a politician.

2. the act of characterizing or describing the individual quality of a person or thing.

3. the creation and convincing representation of fictitious characters, as in a literary work.

 Basically, characterization is how you make your characters live and breathe realistically. It’s what makes your readers care about your characters.

Characterization has been around for about 500 years and increased in the 19th century as people began to consider psychology and why people acted the way they did. It was used before that, of course. Shakespeare wrote some of the most developed and twisted characters in literary history.

There are two type of characterization: direct and indirect. Today I’m going to talk about direct characterization. Part 2 will explain indirect charactization.

Direct characterization is when you tell your reader something exact about your character. Examples:

Lilly was blonde and tall for her age.

“I’m a lousy daughter.”

“The dark circles under your blue eyes look like bruises.”

You give them precise information, you tell them directly. You leave nothing to the imagination. These are facts about your character that you need the reader to have and make no mistake about. For whatever reason, you choose not to sugar-coat descriptions and lay it all out instead. Use direct characterization sparingly. Too much of it and the reader doesn’t get the chance to use their imagination, which is what they came for. Your characters will also come across flat. And you don’t want that.

Here’s an example of direct from Harper Lee’sTo Kill a Mockingbird:

“Besides that, he wore glasses. He was nearly blind in his left eye, and said left eyes were the tribal curse of the Finches. Whenever he wanted to see something well, he turned his head and looked from his right eye.”

Here, Ms. Lee clearly tells us the character wore glasses and why and how he turns his head to see. There is nothing left to the imagination.

Direct characterization is the simplest of the two for obvious reasons. You state what you mean. But, that’s not always the best way.

Tomorrow I’ll be talking about indirect characterization which is – you guessed it – a subtler form of breathing life into your characters.

Characterization Part 2


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