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Analyzing Characters Study Guide

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Updated on Aug 25, 2011

Practice exercises for this study guide can be found at:

Analyzing Characters Practice Exercises

LESSON SUMMARY

Characters are a major part of every fiction story; they experience the story's action and explore the story's themes. This lesson shows you how authors build characters and help you see behind the scenes of your favorite characters.

Who are your favorite fictional characters? Dracula, Batman, Ramona Quimby, Winnie-the-Pooh, Charlie Brown—you could probably name 50 memorable characters from stories you have read or heard. Characters are essential to any story because readers make stronger connections to a story's characters than to its setting, plot, or themes. If you think the main characters in a story are boring, you probably won't read very much of it!

Authors work hard to create interesting, believable characters in their stories that will appeal to readers. Characters are the author's best tool for expressing the story's themes. In this lesson you'll learn how to analyze a character and understand his or her role in the story.

Understanding Characters

The first step of analyzing a character is looking at what the author (or speaker) says about the character. This usually includes details about physical appearance:

  • species (human or animal)
  • gender
  • age
  • height and weight
  • color of hair/eyes/skin
  • special abilities or disabilities
  • health

Understanding the character's physical appearance will help you to make predictions about the character's role in the plot. If a character is particularly healthy, or ugly, or a fast runner, these traits might determine how the character acts in the rest of the story.

Personality Traits

The next step is to decide what the character is like. This requires more careful reading because authors usually show the character's personality rather than tell us right out. For example, we learn that Winnie-the-Pooh is a good friend when he risks a dangerous flood to save his stranded friends. Personality traits are usually described using adjectives; here are some examples.

    Personality Traits

      brave
      greedy
      kind
      selfless
      clever
      helpful
      outgoing
      shy
      cruel
      humble
      proud
      stingy

A story might contain several different clues to the character's personality. First, you can look at how the author describes the character. Second, consider how the character perceives himself [or herself]. Does he think he's the best basketball player ever born? Is she too shy to talk at school? Is he aware that his parents are proud of him?

Third, look for clues in the character's relationships. As the saying goes, "Actions speak louder than words," so watch how the character acts toward others. Personality traits are the best clues to how a character is going to act throughout the story. A cruel monster will likely cause conflict in the story, while a wise grandmother might help others or share good advice.

Another important trait to identify is a character's motive, the reason or intent behind his or her actions. Suppose Ben wants nothing more than to be the best football player at Wiley High. This idea will motivate his actions in the story. A character might have many motives, and she might develop different motives by the end of the story. For example, Bilbo, the beloved hero of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, goes on an exciting adventure, yet all the while he is motivated by thoughts of returning home to his quiet village life. On the journey, though, he discovers new motives—justice, friendship, and common purpose.

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