Four Methods Characterization

Characterize is a verb that means to describe a character. There are four main ways that writers of stories and books make their characters seem real and alive. These are called methods of characterization. When you read a story or novel, these are the ways that you (as a reader) learn about the characters:

1. Physical Appearance: The way a character looks and dresses tells you a lot about him/her. Physical appearance includes a character's size, age, skin color, hair color, eye color, clothing, and any other defining physical characteristics like scars or a unique hair style.

The teacher's mouth, usually nothing more than a straight gash above his pointed chin, was twisted into a frown so deep it seemed to extend past the bottom of his face. His flesh, usually a corpse-like grey, was quickly turning from red to purple, and the vein in his forehead was pulsing. His beady black eyes bored holes into the students as he glared around the classroom. "Who is responsible for this mess?" he bellowed, pointing a gnarled, bony finger towards the floor where a stray M&M had been squashed into the carpet.


2. Speech and Actions (Personality): What a character says and does also tells you a lot about him/her. This could include quotations of things that the character has said, activities in which the character is engaged, quirky traits of his/her personality, and descriptions of how that person interacts with others.

Elizabeth skipped out her front door smiling on the first day of school. "Bye, Mom!" she called as she met her friends at the sidewalk. The group of eight year old girls immediately started singing a silly rhyme that one of them had learned from an older sister. They giggled hysterically all the way to the corner. Just before they disappeared around the fence at the end of the block, Elizabeth called, "I love you, Mom! See you after school!"


3. Others' Opinions of the Character: What other people think of the character is often a good indicator of what the character is like. If many people in a story are afraid of a character, you (as a reader) know that there must be something scary or intimidating about him/her. If a character is well-liked by everyone else in a story, then you know that s/he is likeable and easy to get along with.

If only there were some way I could reach him, thought Steven as he watched his son staring into the hypnotic glow of the television. He's so wrapped up in those stupid cartoons! And they're violent too! I never see him play with other kids. I wonder if he's...normal. "Hey, buddy, you want to go outside and play catch? I'll pitch you a few if you want....what d'ya say?" But Raymond didn't even look up at his father.


4. The Character's Inner Thoughts and Feelings: If the writer of a story gives you a glimpse inside a character's mind (by telling what the character is thinking or showing a piece of the character's diary), you have a very good idea of what that character is really like, even if his/her outward appearance and personality is not clearly described.

Ooh, I hate her! thought Lindsay as she watched Mary Sue approach through the crowded school hallway. She's such a phony! Always acting so sweet. She's not fooling anybody! As Mary Sue stepped in front of her, Lindsay painted on a large, tense smile and twittered, "Mary Sue! I've been looking for you! We should get together and have lunch sometime!"


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