Tips and tricks for character analysis

Every piece of literature has a character. Stories revolve around characters; characters catalyze a story to move forward; and more importantly, they make people love or hate them. If you ask any bookworm, they certainly have a character (or two, or three) whom they love. These characters, whether we love or hate them, are crucial to every story. This is why fiction writers carefully craft and present their characters, in the process called characterization.

When analyzing a character, it’s important to keep in mind that everything that the character does, sees, says, and feels are part of characterization. These are deliberate; and while some of these are pivotal to the plot, they still play a big part in building character.

Character Analysis

A character analysis is a sub-type of a literary analysis essay. Character analysis involves observing the character and analyzing them and how they relate to the story as a whole. Character analysis requires meticulous analysis as the most crucial detail can be so subtle, or even unnoticeable. Moreover, fiction writers use characters in various ways. Some characters are allegorical figures for a particular person, while others are allegorical figures for entire peoples; similarly, characters have been used to make a commentary about an idea or ideal. The role and significance of a character in a literary work is unpredictable. The best we readers can do is to analyze them with a meticulous eye through the help of available empirical proof.

How to analyze a character

Step 1: Describe your character
The first and most basic step in a character analysis is describing the character. How old is this person? Where do they live? What do they do? Are they nice, innocent, or witty? You could try to describe your character as you would a friend. This serves as the foundation for your understanding of the character.

Take it a step higher: what are their hopes or goals? What is their motivation? Are they going through a conflict, internal or external? Do they undergo a change as a result of an event in the story?

You may need to go back to the story and take note of the character’s thoughts, feelings, and actions.

Step 2: Determine the type of character
It’s time to get technical. Aside from the protagonist, antagonist, and ancillary characters, there are four types of characters that typically appear in a fictional story. Understanding what type your character is will help you determine their role in the story as well.

Dynamic character – this type of character is one who experiences a change in their personality or perspective in life or about a thing. This change is often propelled by an event in the story. Often, for the protagonist, the event is the conflict.

Static character – the opposite of a dynamic character; a character can be well-fleshed out and still don’t undergo a change throughout the story.

Round character – this type of character is fully fleshed out in the story. We know their personalities, their thoughts, and their motives.

Flat character – the opposite of a flat character; as suggested by its name, a flat character is not fleshed out in the story. Little effort is devoted to this character’s characterization. They also don’t undergo any change throughout the story, but they remain crucial to the plot or the entirety of the story.

Foil character – this is a character whose characteristics contrast those of another character in the story. Foil characters are often minor characters that are simply there to highlight a characteristic of the main character. (Note: the foil character can be classified as any of the four types of characters.)

Step 3: Describe the character development
It’s easy to point out what happens to the plot of a story, but what happens to a character is often more subtle. The character analysis draws you to be more conscious of the changes that happen to a character. Take note of their thoughts and feelings after the climax or after a significant event—how is it different from how they thought, felt, and acted prior? Did this character grow stronger or weaker? Did they develop new relationships? Did they tap into a new aspect of themselves?

Once you have the character development figured out, it’s time to analyze it in relation to the bigger picture.

Step 4: The big picture
Most everything in the story boils down to the message or theme of the story. Thus, the character and their developments can best be understood in the context of the story’s theme. For instance, you can talk about how the character further expounds on the story’s theme. What does the character or their development say about the theme or topic of the story? These are just some typical angles through which you can analyze a story. You may also opt to employ theories in analyzing a character, especially if the author used it or is a proponent of the said theory.

Character analysis example - Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby

Final notes

We completely understand that you love these characters, but do be wary of making groundless assumptions or projecting your own biases or hopes onto them. However you relate to the character is irrelevant to your character analysis. Don’t let it cloud your analysis! Always refer back to the story and look for concrete evidence for your analyses. As long as you can find sound, concrete evidence, and you can justify or explain it logically, you are free to write whatever you please.

Which character would you love to analyze?