When analyzing character, consider the individual's
  • a) Role in the Story (e.g., protagonist, antagonist, foil, symbolic - relation to theme?)
  • b) Personality Traits, how this may evolve, and how these might be channelled through:
    • Actions (what he/she does or fails to do)
    • Speech/Thoughts (what he/she thinks)
    • Hearsay (what is said about this person: more common in longer pieces)

  • c) Contribution to Conflict: character is generally inseparable from plot. Without characters (even in the form of setting), a storyline can rarely exist; and by the same token, characters are merely figures until events unfold (even if they are stationary: see Waiting for Godot) to help shape them and their reactions to an experience.
  • d) Growth or Revelations: often this is subtle and requires readers' strong powers of inference to read the signs, the clues, and suggestions offered by the author, subtle hints that point to epiphanies or realizations at which the character(s) arrive by the end of the tale.

Other guides and links:

Describing a character for a character analysis
by DR DAVIS on MAY 25, 2008

A strong character analysis will:
  1. identify the type of character it is dealing with.
  2. describe the character, using various measures as detailed below.
  3. discuss the conflict in the story, particularly in regards to the character’s place in it.

To describe the character:

Consider the character’s name and appearance.
  • Is the author taking advantage of stereotypes? The hot-tempered redhead, the boring brunette.
  • Is the author going against stereotypes? The brilliant blonde, the socially adept professor
  • Is the author repeating a description of the character? If so, then it is important. For example, Kathy in East of Eden is described as rodent-like and snake-like, “sharp little teeth” and a “flickering tongue.”
  • Is their name significant? Is it a word that means something, like Honor or Hero? Does it come from a particular place or time and make reference to that? Scarlett, Beowulf.
  • Appearance and visual attributes are usually far less important than other factors, unless their appearance is the point such as in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Clothing also rarely matters, except to make him/her easier to visualize.

Consider if he/she a static (unchanging) or dynamic (changing) character. If the character has changed during the course of the story:
  • Was the change gradual or rapid?
  • Was it subtle or obvious?
  • Are the changes significant to the story or are they a minor counterpoint?
  • Are the changes believable or fantastic?
  • What was his/her motivation to change?
  • What situations or characters encouraged the change?
  • How does the character learn from or deal with the change?

Consider how the author discloses the character:
  • external image star.jpegBy what the character says or thinks.
  • By what the character does.
  • By what other characters say about him/her.
  • By what the author says about him/her.
  • The short form for this is STAR (says, thinks, acts, reacts).

Look for these things within the creation of the character:
psychological/personality traits
  • Do these characteristics aid in the character being consistent (in character), believable, adequately motivated, and interesting?
  • Do the characteristics of the character emphasize and focus on the character’s role in the story’s plot?
  • Is the character ethical? Is he/she trying to do the right thing, but going about it in the wrong way?
  • Is the motivation because of emotion (love, hate) or a decision (revenge, promotion)?
behavior /actions
  • Does the character act in a certain way consistently?
  • Or is the character erratic?
  • Could one pluck the character from the story, put them in another story, and know how they would react?
  • With other characters in the story
  • How others see/react to him/her
weaknesses/faultsexternal image little-red-riding-hood1-150x150.jpg
  • Typical tragic weakness is pride. Oedipus is proud.
  • Weakness could be anything. In “Little Red Riding Hood,” the girl talks to a stranger. That’s a weakness.
  • There are many different strengths and virtues.
  • One strength/virtue is being good in trying times, like Cinderella.
  • Another strength/virtue is caring for family, like Little Red Riding Hood.
  • Another strength/virtue is being smart, like Oedipus.
  • Most protagonists have more than one strength/virtue.
moral constitution
  • Often a character will agonize over right and wrong.
  • If a character doesn’t agonize and chooses one or the other easily, that is also significant.
  • Does the story revolve around this character's actions?
  • If so, is the character the hero (protagonist) or villain (antagonist)?
complex/simple personality
  • Personalities are more likely to be simple in children’s stories, fairy tales, and short stories.
  • Personalities are more likely to be complex in longer works.
  • Even in short works, such as “The Story of an Hour,” the character’s personality can be complex. Then it depends on what the author was focusing on.
history and background
  • Sometimes a character analysis looks at the history of the individual character. Was that person mistreated? abused? well-loved? liked?
  • Sometimes the history of the work matters more. Is the story set in World War II? In ancient Greece? That makes a difference because culture changes stories. If you don’t know the culture, though, you may not be able to comment on this.
similarities and differences between the characters
  • This could be the foil aspect again. (See How to write a character analysis for a longer discussion.)
  • It could be looking at how characters complement each other.
  • It could be looking at why characters would be antagonistic.
character’s function in storyexternal image cinderella-150x150.gif
  • Is the character an integral character? (Cinderella)
  • Is the character a minor character? (The wicked stepmother in “Cinderella”)
  • Is the character someone who could have been left out or is gratuitous? (The second wicked stepsister in “Cinderella.”)