How to Write a Character Analysis Essay: Examples & Outline

A character analysis is an examination of the personalities and actions of characters that make up a story. It discusses their role in the story, evaluates their traits, and looks at their conflicts and experiences. Want to know what a character analysis essay is and how to write it? Look no further. In this guide by our custom writing experts, you will find many helpful tips and a good essay example. Keep on reading to find out more.

📔 What Is a Character Analysis Essay?

A character analysis essay is an assignment where you evaluate a character’s traits, behaviors, and motivations. It requires critical thinking and attention to detail. Unlike descriptions, analyses focus on a character’s personality and internal drives. It explains how those factors shape the narrated events.

The picture shows the definition of character analysis.

So, what you need to do is to see the characters as if they were real people who feel and act just as we do. Ensure there are no baseless assumptions and interpretations: the ideas you present should be supported by quotes from the text.

Character: Definition (Literature)

How do you define a character? It is a person, a creature, or an animal that makes up the story’s world. A character can be based on a real-life person, or it can be entirely fictional. It is someone who thinks, feels, and acts.

We use the word “character” in many different contexts. For instance, it can denote someone eccentric or worthy of our admiration. In both contexts, the term “character” means a distinctive personality. Similarly, in an analysis, your task is to show what makes a character stand out.

Characterization: Literary Definition & Examples

Characterization is the process by which a character’s personality is revealed. It presents characters’ traits, feelings, and motives to the reader. For this reason, characterization is closely connected to character analysis. It helps us to understand the characters better throughout the reading process.

Characterization can be direct and indirect.

  • Direct characterization is when the narrator directly tells the audience what the personality of a character is.
  • In contrast, indirect characterization shows things that hint at a character’s nature.

Here are some examples of direct characterization taken from Patti Smith’s Just Kids:

Example:

“But he always suppressed his real feelings, mimicking the stoic nature of his father.”

Here we see a direct description of a character. The author straightforwardly talks about Robert’s feelings. In comparison, look at the description of a woman taken from John Steinbeck’s The Snake:

Example:

“He looked around at her again. Her dark eyes seemed veiled with dust. She looked without expression at the cat’s open throat.”

These lines don’t directly reveal anything about the woman, but the reader can understand that she is cold and dangerous. It’s an indirect characterization that focuses on looks and actions to convey the message to the reader.

🧙 Types of Characters for Your Essay

When it comes to characters, they can be divided into several groups. For example, characters can be:

  • Protagonists or antagonists,
  • Static or dynamic,
  • Flat or round.

These types define how much the characters change through the course of the story and their role in it.

Character Type: Definition

In psychology, a character type is defined by a combination of personality traits that coexist in an individual. Authors incorporate different types of characters into their works to convey the message and make the story more exciting or relatable to the reader.

There are three ways to categorize a character type:

  • by archetypes,
  • by their role in the narrative,
  • by their ability to change throughout the story.

If you are about to write a character analysis essay, being familiar with character archetypes is essential. They have been categorized by a generation of writers, including the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung and the American literary theorist Joseph Campbell. A lot of characters we see in today’s literary works are rooted in them.

Archetypes include the Trickster, the Ruler, the Lover, the Sage, and others. The Hero is one of the most notable archetypes. Hercules or Achilles can be good examples of heroic protagonists. They are strong and courageous; they meet challenges and save the day by helping others.

Main Character: Definition & Examples

The main character and the protagonist often get mixed up. Most narratives also have the figure of the antagonist, whose actions affect the plot and stimulate change. Let’s have a look at the similarities and differences between these types.

The main character is central in the narrative. We experience the story through their eyes. They don’t necessarily have to be protagonists, though it happens in many cases.

The crucial difference between the main character and the protagonist is that the protagonist goes through changes throughout the story. The main character, however, is there to guide the reader through the experience. Often they help to show a different, darker side of the protagonist.

To understand the difference better, let’s turn to some examples.

Literary TextMain Character & Protagonist
Hamlet by William ShakespeareThe main character and the protagonist are one person. The reader sees the story from Hamlet’s perspective. He is also the one who undergoes the change and faces the antagonist—Claudius.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Nick Carraway is the main character. He narrates the story and is its central figure. The reader sees Gatsby and the development of his character through his eyes.
  • Jay Gatsby is the protagonist. He is the one who undergoes changes and is affected by the actions of the antagonist —Tom Buchanan.

What’s a Static Character?

Now that we’ve learned about the main character and the protagonist, we will closely look at other types of character classifications. One of the ways to categorize a character is by their ability to change throughout the story.

A static or simple character is someone who undergoes little or no significant changes. They often exist for comedic purposes. Here are some examples:

Static CharacterExplanation
Jim from Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry FinnThroughout his journey, his personality remains the same. He stays loving, caring, and intelligent.
Polonius from Shakespeare’s HamletHe remains sneaky and superficial throughout the story. His role in the play is largely comedic.

Complex Character: Definition & Examples

Complex or dynamic characters are the opposite of static characters. Characters of this type change as the book progresses. They display different qualities, emotions, and motives. They become more complicated and interesting to the reader as the story unfolds.

Check out these examples of dynamic characters:

Dynamic CharactersExplanation
Huckleberry Finn from Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry FinnHis personality changes a lot. The boy grows up and becomes an individual who strives to think for himself towards the end of the book.
Macbeth from Shakespeare’s MacbethHe changes throughout the play. At first, we see him as a brave warrior, but by the end, he falls victim to greed and ambition, which leads to his downfall.

Other Kinds of Characters

You already know about several ways to define a type of character. Now, let’s go over some other types, starting with flat and round characters.

Similar to dynamic and static ones, round and flat characters represent two different ends of a spectrum. Round characters usually come with an in-depth background. They are traditionally protagonists, antagonists, or those close to them. In contrast, flat characters are two-dimensional, and there is not much depth to them.

For the examples, we will turn to the novel Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

CharacterTypeExplanation
Mr. CollinsFlat and static characterThroughout the narrative, Mr. Collins remains essentially the same. The only thing he strives for is to please others, especially those of a higher social status. He represents the fault in society and the hierarchy that exists within it.
Mr. DarcyRound and dynamic characterThe man undergoes a tremendous change. At first, Mr. Darcy is depicted as someone who lacks courtesy and looks down on the lower class people. However, as the novel progresses, we see him grow and become a better person. Towards the end of the story, he learns to acknowledge his faults.

Finally, here are some bonus character types for you:

  • Stock characters have a fixed set of traits and are flat. Most of the time, they exist for comical relief.
  • Symbolic characters represent a concept or a theme that goes beyond them. They can be round and flat as long as they symbolize a particular notion or phenomena.
  • Sidekick is a secondary character who supports the protagonist.
  • The love interest is someone with whom the main character is infatuated.
  • Foil is someone who’s set in contrast with the protagonist, thus putting more emphasis on the latter’s qualities.

Characterization Essay: Which Character Type to Choose

Before you start writing a paper, it essential to decide on the character you’re going to analyze. There are different types of characters in every story, so you need to choose which one suits your essay topic the best.

Usually, it’s best to choose a dynamic and round character. With static and flat ones, there may not be enough substance for you to analyze. However, some such personalities can be interesting to work with. For instance, a flat character such as Mr. Collins can be symbolic of something. Then, you can talk about how it embodies a specific idea or notion. You can also look at how they affect other characters in the story.

📝 How to Write a Character Analysis: Writing Guide

Now, we’re going to discuss how to write your paper step-by-step. But first, here are some pre-writing steps for you to consider:

  1. Choose a character for analysis.
  2. Read the text while keeping the character in mind:
    • Take notes while reading;
    • Define the type of the character and their role in the story;
    • Pay attention to their descriptions and actions.

How to Analyze a Character: Description Examples

Knowing how to organize your work is an essential skill. Certain things need special attention if you are describing a character:

  • physical appearance,
  • emotional state,
  • how the character speaks,
  • behavior and personality traits,
  • relationships with other characters.

When you analyze a character, try to look at them as if they were a real-life person. You want to know their motive, learn about how they feel, and understand why they think in a certain way. Ask yourself:

  1. How did the character change throughout the story (if at all)?
  2. What do other characters say about them? Can their words be trusted?
  3. Where is the character physically and emotionally? What brought them here?
  4. What is the character ready to do to achieve their goal?

Now, let’s look at the character of Franklin from the short story Just Before the War with the Eskimos by J.D. Salinger:

Lines from the storyWhat do we learn about the character?
“A young man wearing glasses and pajamas and no slippers lunged into the room with his mouth open.”Oh. I thought it was Eric, for Chrissake,” he said. Without stopping, and with extremely poor posture, he continued across the room, cradling something close to his narrow chest.”Franklin seems to be someone who doesn’t care about his appearance or what other people think of him. We can say that because the young man comes out of his room in only pajamas and no slippers. He also has poor posture and uses curses. Even when Franklin realizes it is not his friend in the room, he doesn’t feel embarrassed. In fact, he seems not to care at all.

Character Profile Template for Writing

When writing your essay, use this character analysis template:

The picture shows the main steps in writing a character analysis essay.

In the following sections, we’ll discuss each step in detail.

Character Analysis Outline: How to Start a Character Analysis

The beginning of your essay is its crucial part. It sets the mood and grabs the reader’s attention. There are many different ways to write a character analysis introduction, but here are the most effective ones:

  1. Use a quotation. It’s a great way to make a catchy hook. If it relates to the character and reflects their nature, it can also help to set the tone for analysis. In case you are using a quotation from somewhere else, mention the source in parentheses.
  2. Talk about the book or story. Mention the author, the name of the story, and the genre. Briefly describe the main events that are taking place in the story.
  3. Introduce the character. State their role in the story (define whether they are a protagonist, an antagonist, etc.) Then, explain whether the character is static or dynamic. Finally, describe them in 2-3 sentences.

The final part of an introduction is a thesis statement.Read on to learn how to write one!

Character Analysis Thesis Statement & Examples

A thesis is the key component of every essay, and character analysis is not an exception. It’s crucial to develop a good and clear thesis statement that includes all the aspects of your paper. For instance, if you plan to write a 4-paragraph body, including 4 points in your thesis.

What should a character analysis thesis include? Well, try to think of any trait that the character possesses that has to do with their downfall or somehow influences the story. Think about how this trait affects the character’s relationship with others or how it contributes to their motive or aspiration.

Take a look at the following examples:

Thesis ExampleExplanation
Oedipus Rex is prideful, and he searches for the truth; he is also a character that experiences the downfall towards the end of the play.It’s a weak thesis statement. This sentence doesn’t make the connection between the character’s traits and the outcome. It also contains unnecessary information about the end of the play.
✔️Oedipus Rex is a man of pride who persistently seeks the truth, and in the end, it is his pride and the truth that determine his downfall.This is a strong thesis statement. It explains that the character has two main traits: he is prideful and seeks the truth. It then states that these qualities are the reason for his downfall.

How to Write Character Analysis Paragraphs for the Main Body

The main body of your essay can include as many paragraphs as you need. In this part, you introduce the character and analyze them. We have already talked in this article about what kind of questions should be answered in these paragraphs. The most important points are:

  • Describe the character and their role within the story.
  • Give the audience an explanation of the character’s motives.
  • Show what message the author wanted to convey through this character.

Keep in mind that every paragraph should have a topic sentence that captures its main idea.

Example:

Tsukuru Tazaki’s spiritual rebirth also affects his physical appearance.

Character Analysis Conclusion: How to Write

The conclusion part of your essay summarizes all the information you have mentioned and restates the thesis. Here is some advice for your conclusion paragraph:

✔️ Dos❌ Don’ts
  • Briefly summarize the essential points of your work.
  • Paraphrase the thesis by combining the topic sentences.
  • Be clear and concise.
  • Avoid introducing new information.
  • Avoid phrases such as “as was mentioned previously.
  • “Don’t write overly long sentences.

🖥️ Character Analysis Essay: Format Tips & Essay Sample

Most college assignments and essays are written according to the APA or MLA format. Both styles have the same formatting, which requires:

  • a double-spaced paper with 1-inch margins,
  • a page header with page numbers flush right,
  • an 11-12-point font.

While writing an essay on characters, pay special attention to quotations. Here are some tips for APA in-text citations:

  1. When you summarize or paraphrase the information, mention the author’s name and publication date in brackets.
    Example: According to Collins (1997.)
  2. When you quote directly from the source, add the number of the page, as well.
    Example: “There is a view that…” (Collins, 1997, pp. 134-135.)
  3. If the source includes three or more authors, use the abbreviation “et al.” after the first author’s name.
    Example: (Collins et al., 1997)

As for MLA format:

  1. You can write the author’s name in the sentence.
    Example: As Collins mentions in his essay<…>.
  2. You can mention the author’s name in the parentheses at the end of the sentence.
    Example: (Collins, J.K.)
  3. The last option is to use either footnotes or endnotes.

Finally, we’ve prepared a full sample essay to help you structure your analysis. Download it below:

Character Analysis of Matilda Wormwood from Roald Dahl's Matilda
Download the free sample

Now you know everything necessary for writing an excellent character analysis. What character would you like to analyze? Let us know in the comments!

Further reading:

❓ Character Analysis FAQ

What does a character analysis involve?

A character analysis involves:

1. description of a character;
2. explanation of how they change throughout the story;
3. their role in the narrative;
4. relationships with other characters;
5. what idea the author wanted to convey through the character.

Why would someone write a character analysis essay?

A character analysis creates a description that contains their most important qualities. It provides a new perspective of a character that reveals more about what it’s like to be human. It can also point to a moral or a lesson.

Tracing the development of a literary character is an example of what type of essay?

Literary analysis uses the technique of tracing the character development. This technique is usually used to understand the theme of the work better. Through tracing a character’s development, we can learn more about the story’s message and how it’s conveyed.

What should a summary paragraph in a character study include?

A summary paragraph in a character study should include answers to the questions “what,” “who,” “where,” and “why.” You should mention who narrates the story, where the story is set, its theme, and the message it conveys.

References

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