Character Analysis Guide: Master Literature
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 8 min read


  1. What is character analysis?
  2. How to identify characteristics of a character?
  3. How to analyze character development
  4. How to analyze character interactions
  5. How to analyze character motivations
  6. How to analyze character influence on plot
  7. How to analyze character influence on theme
  8. How to analyze character arc and transformation
  9. How to write character analysis essay

Picture your favorite book. Now, think about the characters that brought that story to life. Their actions, thoughts, and words paint a vivid picture in our minds, don't they? Well, the secret to understanding those characters, as well as the heart of the story, lies in mastering the art of analyzing characterization in literature. It's like a fun detective game where you gather clues about characters to uncover the deeper layers of the story. Let's jump right in!

What is character analysis?

Character analysis is a fascinating journey into the heart of a story. It's about looking closely at each character and understanding their traits, roles, and experiences. Imagine you are a detective and the character is a puzzle waiting to be solved. You're not just reading about who they are on the surface, but you're digging into their actions, words, and thoughts to see what makes them tick. Here's how you do it:

  • Identify the character's traits: These are the qualities that make a character who they are. It could be anything from being brave, clever, kind, or stubborn.
  • Understand their role in the story: Every character plays a part in moving the story forward. They could be the hero, the sidekick, the villain, or even the comic relief.
  • Examine the conflicts they experience: Characters often face challenges or conflicts. How they deal with these situations can reveal a lot about their personality and growth.

Remember, analyzing characterization in literature isn't just about listing facts about the character. It's about understanding them in a way that brings the story to life. It's about seeing how they change, how they interact with others, and how they influence the plot and themes of the story. There's a whole world to explore within each character, so let's get started!

How to identify characteristics of a character?

So, you're ready to start analyzing characterization in literature, and the first step is to identify the characteristics of a character. But how do you do it? Here is a straightforward plan:

  • Observe their actions: What a character does can tell you a lot about who they are. For example, if a character always stands up for others, they're likely brave and compassionate.
  • Pay attention to their words: Dialogue can reveal a lot about a character's personality, beliefs, and relationships with others. For instance, a character who always speaks kindly to others is likely a nice person.
  • Consider their thoughts and feelings: Sometimes, a character's inner world — their thoughts and feelings — can tell you more about them than their actions or words.
  • Take into account their appearance: How a character dresses or looks can give you clues about their personality or their role in the story.

Identifying characteristics is like collecting puzzle pieces about a character. It's not just about noting what you see or read, but about putting those pieces together to get a fuller picture of who the character really is. So, keep those detective glasses on and let's continue our journey in analyzing characterization in literature.

How to analyze character development

Now that you've got the basics down, let's move on to analyzing character development. This involves observing how a character changes and grows throughout the story. Here's the scoop:

  • Track the character's journey: Look at where the character started at the beginning of the story and where they end up. Have they grown? Have they learned something new? Have their beliefs or attitudes changed? This can give you a sense of their development.
  • Analyze key events: Major events in the story often trigger changes in characters. Examine these closely and consider how the character reacted, what choices they made, and how it affected them.
  • Consider relationships: Relationships can greatly influence a character's development. How a character interacts with others, their reactions, and the changes in their relationships can all signify growth or change.

Remember, not all characters will develop or change in a story—that's okay. Some characters are static, meaning they stay the same throughout the story. Others are dynamic, meaning they undergo significant changes. Both are important and understanding this is a key part of analyzing characterization in literature.

How to analyze character interactions

Let's dive into another important part of analyzing characterization in literature: examining character interactions. This is all about how characters relate to each other. Let's break this down:

  • Observe dialogues: So much can be uncovered from the way characters talk to each other. Do they argue? Are they supportive? Do they joke around? Dialogues can reveal a lot about relationships between characters.
  • Look at their actions: Actions can speak louder than words. If a character helps another in a tough situation, or perhaps the opposite, betrays them, it can tell you much about their relationship and interactions.
  • Consider their influence: Characters often influence each other's decisions and behaviors. If a character changes because of another, it shows the power and effect of their interaction.

When analyzing character interactions, it's important to note that these interactions can change over time—just like in real life. Characters can start off as friends and end up as enemies, or vice versa. Understanding these changing dynamics can give you a deeper understanding of the characters and the story as a whole.

How to analyze character motivations

It's time to explore the driving forces behind characters' actions. Understanding character motivations is a key part of analyzing characterization in literature. Here's what you need to watch out for:

  • Desires and Goals: What does the character want more than anything? This could be anything from a physical object, a relationship, a change in their life, or even the resolution of a mystery. Their ultimate goal will heavily influence their actions.
  • Fears and Worries: On the flip side, what does the character want to avoid? Fears and worries can be as motivating as desires and goals. They can push the character to take risks or to make safe choices.
  • Values and Beliefs: What does the character believe in? What are their morals? These deeply held values can guide a character's decisions, even when they conflict with their desires or fears.

Remember, motivations can evolve as the story progresses. Characters might change their minds, achieve their goals, or face new fears. Keeping track of these changes can help you understand not just the characters, but also the bigger themes and messages of the story.

How to analyze character influence on plot

The plot of a story isn't just something that happens—it's often driven by the actions and decisions of its characters. That's why analyzing characterization in literature includes understanding how characters influence the plot. Here's how you can do it:

  • Actions: Look at the key events in the story. How many of them are caused directly by the character's actions? A character who frequently makes things happen is likely to have a significant influence on the plot.
  • Decisions: Similarly, consider the character's decisions. How do they affect the story's direction? Remember, a decision isn't always about doing something—sometimes, the decision to do nothing can be equally impactful!
  • Reactions: Even passive characters can influence the plot through their reactions. How do other characters and events in the story change as a result of this character's responses? This can give you clues about their indirect influence on the plot.

As you can see, a character's influence on the plot goes beyond their actions. It's about how they shape the world around them, and how the world, in turn, shapes them. This give-and-take is a vital part of analyzing characterization in literature, and it can reveal a lot about the story's deeper meanings.

How to analyze character influence on theme

When analyzing characterization in literature, one often overlooked aspect is how characters can embody and influence the theme of the story. Themes are the underlying messages or big ideas of a story, and characters play a crucial role in expressing these. So how do you analyze a character's influence on theme? Here's a simple guide:

  • Beliefs: What does the character believe in? Their beliefs can often mirror the theme of the story. For instance, if a character strongly believes in forgiveness, the theme of the story may revolve around redemption.
  • Speech: The way a character speaks can reflect the theme. For example, a character who frequently talks about freedom and independence might hint at a theme of personal liberty.
  • Behavior: How does the character behave? Do they consistently act in a way that supports the theme? In a story themed around courage, you might find a character who consistently stands up for what they believe in, no matter the cost.

Remember, characters are often vehicles for the author's themes. By diving into a character's beliefs, speech, and behavior, you can gain a deeper understanding of the story's larger messages. And that's the beauty of analyzing characterization in literature—it's not just about understanding the characters, but also the world they inhabit and the ideas they represent.

How to analyze character arc and transformation

Another fascinating aspect of analyzing characterization in literature is the character arc and transformation. A character's arc is the journey they go through, the changes they undergo from the start of the story to the end. This can provide a wealth of insight into not only the character but also the story's overall message. Let's take a look at how to analyze this aspect:

  • Identify the starting point: Where does the character begin in the story? Are they timid, confident, naive, cynical? This initial characterization sets the stage for their journey.
  • Track the changes: As the story progresses, how does the character change? Do they become more confident? Do they lose their innocence? Identifying these changes can help you understand the character arc.
  • Understand the catalysts: What events or experiences prompt these changes in the character? The reasons behind a character's transformation can be as revealing as the changes themselves.
  • Analyze the end point: Where does the character end up at the end of the story? How do they differ from the character we met at the beginning? Assessing the end point of the character's journey can provide insight into the overall theme of the story.

Character transformation is one of the most compelling aspects of a story. It's what makes us root for characters, mourn their losses, and celebrate their victories. By analyzing a character's arc, we can gain a deeper appreciation for the intricacies of storytelling and the power of character development in literature.

How to write a character analysis essay

Now that we've covered the intricate process of analyzing characterization in literature, let's apply this knowledge to the final step: writing a character analysis essay. This task may seem daunting at first, but don't worry, we're in this together. Here's how you can approach it:

  1. Choose your character: Start by selecting the character you want to analyze. It could be a major character or a minor one—whatever sparks your interest!
  2. Identify key characteristics: Next, list down the key characteristics of your chosen character. Remember, these can include physical attributes, personality traits, and even their habits and quirks!
  3. Analyze character development: How does your character change over the course of the story? What experiences or events lead to these changes? This is where your understanding of character arcs comes into play.
  4. Consider character interactions: Look at how your character interacts with others. These interactions can reveal a lot about your character's motivations and their role in the story.
  5. Examine influence on plot and theme: How does your character influence the plot and the theme of the story? Their actions, decisions, and transformations can have significant impacts on the storyline and the underlying messages of the text.
  6. Organize your thoughts: Before you start writing, create an outline for your essay. This will help you structure your thoughts and ensure a smooth flow of ideas.
  7. Write, review, and revise: Now it's time to bring it all together! Write your essay, then take some time to review and revise it. Make sure your analysis is clear, your arguments are well-supported, and your writing is engaging.

And there you have it! With these steps, you're well on your way to writing a stellar character analysis essay. Remember, the goal is not to simply describe your character, but to delve into their personality, their changes, their motivations, and their impact on the story. So go ahead, flex those analytical muscles and dive into the wonderful world of character analysis!

If you enjoyed our Character Analysis Guide and want to dive deeper into the world of creating compelling characters, be sure to check out the workshop 'Creating Characters: The Design Process' by Kit Buss. This workshop will provide you with valuable insights on how to design unique and memorable characters for your stories, further enhancing your understanding of literature.