Indirect Characterization Requires Readers to What a Character Is Like
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Indirect Characterization Requires Readers to What a Character Is Like

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  • October 12, 2023
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  • 5 min read


Indirect characterization is a storytelling technique where the writer indirectly reveals a character’s traits and personality. Their actions, thoughts, dialogue, appearance, or interactions with other characters. 

It allows readers to conclude a character’s nature rather than being explicitly told by the writer. This technique adds depth and complexity to characters and helps readers connect with them more deeply.

Types of Characterization Readers Need to Understand

No matter what you’re writing—a movie script, a short story, or a novel—you’ll include made-up characters. From hero to villain and all in between, explain your characters’ looks, physical attributes, perspectives, personalities, inner thoughts, and deeds.

Direct characterization is when the author describes the character’s appearance, personality, and behavior. Indirect characterization is when the author uses other characters to describe a character.

These facts and traits about the characters help the reader get to know them and either dislike or care about them. This kind of representation is called “characterization.”

Below are the two types of it:

1- Direct Characterization

Direct characterization is when the author tells you what a character is like.

Example: The American Author House says, “Jim was a nice guy.”

2- Indirect Characterization

Indirect characterization is when the author shows you what a character is like.

Example: The author tells us that Jim always greeted everyone with a smile and a friendly word.

Methods of Indirect Characterization

Actions, speech, thoughts, reactions, interactions with others, and physical appearance—these are all methods employed in indirect characterization. For a detailed exploration of these methods, aspiring writers can delve into articles like Dynamic Characters: Differences, Examples, and How to Write Them.

Actions: What a character does can reveal a lot about their personality. For example, a character who helps others selflessly might be portrayed as kind and empathetic.

Speech and Dialogue: How a character speaks, their choice of words, accents, or their language can provide insights into their background, education, and social status.

Thoughts and Inner Monologues: Allowing readers access to a character’s thoughts gives a glimpse into their fears, hopes, dreams, and internal struggles.

Reactions: How characters react to different situations, challenges, or conflicts can reveal their temperament, emotional stability, and coping mechanisms.

Interactions with Others: Characters often reveal their nature through how they treat other characters. Their relationships, friendships, and conflicts shed light on their social skills, empathy, and moral values.

Physical Appearance: While not as significant as other methods, certain physical traits can symbolize specific characteristics. 

Examples of Indirect Writing Characterization

The examples below show how writers use words, a character’s thoughts, actions, interactions, and physical detail to show who a character is. For further insights into effective characterization, consider exploring resources like How to Write a Biography About Yourself.

Examining examples of indirect characterization in literature can provide valuable insights for writers. Explore articles like What Is Realistic Fiction for a deeper understanding of the craft.

Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” has Atticus talking to Scout about a trial that is coming up and how he plans to stand up for what he believes in. Readers can conclude the character’s values, views, and the ideals he wants other people to follow.

Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” shows how direct and subtle portrayals differ. People who read the book learn that Scrooge is stingy and doesn’t trust or like others. Dickens paints a negative picture of him from the get-go, showing him cursing at his nephew, pushing away carolers, and dismissing a fundraiser.

Key Characteristics and Profound Details

Aspect Direct Characterization Indirect Characterization
Method Telling directly about the character. Showing character traits through various means.
Examples in Literature “Jim was a nice guy.” – American Author House Atticus in “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee, Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens.
Key Characteristics Appearance, personality, behavior. Actions, speech/dialogue, thoughts, reactions, interactions, physical appearance.
Impact on Readers Provides straightforward information about characters. Encourages readers to deduce character traits, adding depth and engagement.
Used in Movies, stories, novels. Movies, stories, novels, especially where character development is central.
Significance Easier for quick characterization, less depth. Adds complexity and depth to characters, enhances reader connection and engagement.
Examples in Writing Straightforward descriptions like “He was tall and had blue eyes.” Showing a character’s kindness through actions like helping others, or stinginess as in Scrooge’s behavior in “A Christmas Carol”.
Advice for Writers Useful for minor characters or when simplicity is needed. Employ for main characters or when depth and reader engagement are important. Explore resources like “How to Write a Biography About Yourself” for more insights.

The Bottom Line

Indirect characterization is a writing method that makes readers think, feel, and pay attention. To master this method and create stories that resonate, consider exploring articles like How to Write a Children’s Book and Get It Published for valuable insights into the storytelling process. By paying attention to the characters’ actions, thoughts, and relationships, readers can get to know them better and feel more connected to the story. The stories crafted by writers skilled at this method have the power to touch the hearts and minds of their readers in profound ways.

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