A characterization summarizes the most important characteristics of a character in a novel. It includes both external and internal characteristics. We will help you further with the most important characterization features, a detailed structure, numerous adjectives for description, and examples for illustration. Write characterization & structure is easier.
A characterization is needed in school in German or English lessons and sometimes even later in studies. Whether essay, exam, or scientific paper – we have put together everything you need to know so that you can quickly and successfully write a characterization.
Definition of a characterization
Table of Contents
- Definition of a characterization
- Direct and indirect characterization in the text
- Structure and content of a characterization
- Writing a characterization: 5 important features.
- Helpful adjectives for characterization
- Three examples of characterization
Characterization: a definition
Although the terms “characterization” and “person description” are often used interchangeably, there is a big difference. A person’s description relates to the external characteristics of a person (such as clothing, body, facial expressions, gestures ). At the same time, a characterization also includes internal characteristics (such as thoughts, feelings, character traits).
A characterization, therefore, serves to make the appearance and essence of a figure tangible. It can help you describe the relationships between the characters or make predictions actions of the respective character. Character development is also included. In an interpretation or an essay, a characterization can help you underpin your arguments.
Direct and indirect characterization in the text
The figures in a text can characterize either directly or indirectly. In a direct characterization, either the narrator, another character, or even your character describes their character. For example: “Lila has always been moody.” From this statement, the character trait emerges directly: Lila is a moody person who quickly changes his mood.
With indirect characterization, you can interpret a person’s characteristics using their indirect signals. It means expressions of the person himself as well as feelings and thoughts. For example: “I was concerned about going to the school ball. Afterward, someone wants to talk to me, or worse: someone asks me to dance.” From this statement, you can deduce that the speaker is insecure, shy of contact, and does not like to dance.
Structure and content of a characterization
Before you start your characterization, you should mark all the places that give clues to the character traits of the selected figure. You can also use sticky notes to memorize the relevant pages and make short notes. Always add the page number to notes so that you can find your examples again afterward.
Characterization aims to find hidden character traits, establish interpersonal relationships, uncover contradictions, and represent the development of the figure in an understandable manner. In this way, you can also make possible prognoses for the further development of the plot.
Build up a characterization
The introduction of the characterization always begins with an introductory sentence. In this, you should state the type of text, the author, the title of the work, the year of publication, & the subject of the work. In a second sentence, you can also briefly introduce the character you are looking at more closely.
The main part of the characterization divides into an outside view and an inside view. Always start with the external characteristics of the person. First, you can name characteristics of appearance, say something about the social situation, and finally, describe the language and behavior you can see from the outside. Sometimes it is more appropriate to start with the social situation first. That always depends on the focus of your characterization.
Then you go to the inside view. Why does the person behave the way they do? What thoughts and goals does she have? How is it influenced by society or its environment? Also, dedicate yourself to the character’s relationship with the other characters and note whether there has been a development. Thus the character is dynamic and complex or whether the character is static and simple. Here you can find all the important points of the main part at a glance:
- Appearance (age, gender, height, physique, gait, hair color, facial features, facial expressions, gestures, scars, moles, jewelry, clothing)
- Social situation (origin, education, social milieu, circle of friends, family, relationship, job, social position)
- Language (communication situation, way of speaking, part of the conversation)
- External action (visible behavior, reactions to the environment, habits, activities)
- Social impact (apparent impact of the figure on its environment)
- Inner action (thoughts, motives, goals, inner conflicts, emotional world)
- Social influence (external factors that influence the thinking and behavior of the character)
- Role within the person constellation (relationship to other people, dramaturgical function)
- Development (change of character, dynamic/round or static character)
Finally, you can briefly summarize your observations and give your own opinion. Both criticism and praise are allowed here. You should also evaluate how important the person and their relationship with other people are to the overall work.
Writing a characterization: 5 important features.
Writing a characterization: Note these five characteristics
You should always make sure to adhere to the five characteristics of a characterization. They concern the choice of the right time and order and the correct quotation, clear language, and the contribution of your personal opinion. Read through the following characteristics before you start writing your characterization.
1. A characterization is always written in the present or perfect tense.
You describe the text and the figure in the current state. Therefore, you should primarily use the present tense: “The character Linda is shy and very thoughtful.” In some cases, the perfect tense is also suitable: “Linda has learned to get rid of her shyness and has become more self-confident .”
2. In the main part, the external characteristics are described first, then the internal ones.
This order is important because the reader first looks at the person’s physical appearance before assigning characteristics to them. You can also play with the reader’s expectations if certain external features do not match the cliché of character traits. Make sure to make paragraphs visually separate the different perspectives on the figure and make your text more comfortable for the reader.
3. It contains quotations as evidence of your arguments.
The statements that you make during the characterization must substantiate with examples from the text. You can use a direct quote in quotation marks as an example or substantiate your statement with a comparison in the text. In any case, you have to make it clear where you are taking the example from.
To do this, write the page number and the line in brackets after your quote. For a direct quote, you write, for example: (p. 12, line 3). You can also add an indirect quote with “cf.” (= compare) provided, so like this: (see p. 12, line 3).
4. The language is clear and contains many adjectives to describe it.
Since characterization aims to make a character as tangible as possible, you need a lot of adjectives and comparisons. So you can create a comprehensible picture of your figure. In the following chapter, we have collected different adjectives to describe a person externally and internally.
5. There is no personal evaluation in the introduction and main part.
You should always save your own opinion until the end when characterizing. Even if you are using very figurative language, it is important to be objective in the body. In the final part, you can then express criticism, evaluate the development, the relationships, or the character itself, and emphasize its importance for the work.
Helpful adjectives for characterization
Adjectives for a personal description and characterization
In this chapter, you will find some helpful adjectives for characterization. They relate to both the outside view ( person description ) and the inside view and offer you examples of how you can describe a person. We then have three text examples that intend to illustrate what a characterization can look like.
Adjectives to describe the person (outside perspective)
- External appearance:
- elegant, neat, tasteful, stylish, extravagant, conspicuous, youthful, feminine, boyish, unkempt, inconspicuous, strong, stocky fleshy, muscular, delicate, thin, pale, tanned, rosy, freckled, large, small, expressionless, Thoughtful, affected, female, male, brown-haired, blonde, black-haired, red-haired, fashionable, unfashionable, natural, made up, sporty, playful
- Body language:
- graceful, graceful, casual, relaxed, easy, hectic, nervous, agile, brisk, energetic, artificial, exaggerated, resolute
- colloquial, dialect, talkative, quiet, taciturn, speaking slowly or quickly, colloquial, vulgar, coarse, cultured, formal, scientific, thoughtful, elected, communicative, extroverted, introverted
Adjectives to describe character traits (inner view)
- melancholic, depressive, shy, level-headed, peaceful, fearful, timid, choleric, hysterical, quick-tempered, adapted, irritable, aggressive, impulsive, spirited, optimistic, pessimistic, lively, restless, calm, serious, humorous, attentive, selfish, social, indignant, spontaneous, authoritarian, submissive
- Character traits:
- vain, conceited, arrogant, haughty, down to earth, modest, polite, independent, dependent, indecisive, hesitant, determined, dominant, strong-willed, self-determined, cool, loving, empathetic, charming, honest, dishonest, self-confident, insecure, open, prejudiced, curious, responsible
Three examples of characterization
In this chapter, you will find three examples of characterization. We have characterized well-known characters to whom assignments often give in school. First, you will find a characterization of Tschick from the book of the same name by Wolfgang Herrndorf. Then we characterized Anne Frank with the help of her diary and finally Dr. Faust from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s “Faust I.” They serve as an inspiration and help you to write a successful characterization yourself.
Characterization of Andrej Tschichatschow from “Tschick”
Characterization of “Tschick” in Herrndorf’s “Tschick” (2010)
The novel “Tschick” by Wolfgang Herrndorf from 2010 is about the two boys Maik and Tschick, who, despite great social differences, go on a trip to Wallachia and become close friends.
The protagonist Andrej Tschichatschow, aka “Tschick,” is a fictional character. He is 14 years old and originally from Rostov in Russia (see pp. 42, 98, 106). He has been living with his brother in a skyscraper in Berlin for four years, where he initially went to special needs school but learned German so well that he is now attending grammar school (see p. 45). Because of his mother tongue, he has a Russian accent in German (cf. ibid.). Through his brother, he already had experience with shoplifting, selling stolen goods, and fraud.
He is of medium height, has an angular head with high cheekbones and Asian eyes (see p. 42). He also has strong forearms and thin legs (see p. 44). Until Maik gives him new clothes, he always wears an old white shirt that is missing a button, worn-out shoes, and cheap jeans (see p. 42). His school bag is a plastic bag. His new clothes consist of jeans, a gray jacket, and sunglasses (see p. 92.)
On his first visit to the new class at high school, he appears unfriendly to his classmates and makes no friends. He regularly comes to school drunk, which causes his grades to fluctuate significantly (see pp. 47, 51). It is locked and does not allow anyone to get near it, so there are many rumors about it. Not everyone gets along with his or her direct nature either. The high school students make fun of him.
He approaches Maik for the first time about his dragon jacket (see p. 61). Over time, they become friends. Tschick tells Maik in confidence that he is homosexual (see p. 213f.). He usually jokes about gays, suggesting that he feels ashamed and inferior because of it (see p. 77). His reluctance and insecurity, which he tries to cover up with his style, suggest this. Another vote of confidence is that Tschick takes the blame at the trial to protect Maik (see p. 235). He sacrifices himself and has to go to a home.
Thus Tschick turns out to be a character with positive and negative traits. He is a dynamic character who is changing from a rather skeptical and closed person to a true friend who can trust and stand up for Maik. The upbringing of his brother and the criminal treatment hurt the sensitive boy.
Characterization of Anne Frank from the “Diary of Anne Frank”
The “Diary of Anne Frank” has been translated into 70 languages
The “Diary of Anne Frank” was kept by Anne Frank from June 12, 1942, to August 1, 1944, during the persecution of the Jews in World War II and published from 1947 in various revised and abridged versions. The Jewish girl, who was thirteen at the beginning, tells of her thoughts and life with her family in a secret building where they have to hide.
Anne is tall with light, freckled skin and dark hair and eyes. She wears her hair shoulder length and mostly open. She has a pointed chin with a dimple and small dimples in her cheeks. Mostly she wears a simple knee-length skirt and a blouse. She comes from a wealthy family, is well brought up, always polite and cheerful. Also, she has a good relationship with her father, she gets along less well with her mother, but she respects her. She is more like friends to her and her sister.
After receiving her diary “Kitty” for her thirteenth birthday, she first reports on her everyday life; about the family, school and boys (see pp. 24, 26, 28). When the family has to hide in the secret annex and can no longer get out, they hold onto their thoughts and feelings there. The Franks only live with the bare essentials in a confined space and can only run water at certain times. Nevertheless, Anne likes it in the apartment.
Her diary shows that she has a versatile vocabulary and a lot of imagination. In addition, she writes very clearly and in detail. She is lively and intelligent, but her character is sometimes quite ambivalent. Sometimes she is reserved and very friendly, but she can also be cheeky and mean. She is also stubborn and jealous of her sister (see p. 41). Despite her zest for life, she is sometimes melancholy; feels misunderstood and alone. In addition, she deals with her situation of not being allowed out of the house and not being able to contact the outside world, which makes her sad. She confides in her diary because she has the feeling that she cannot talk to anyone else.
Overall, you can see character development from an insecure girl to a self-confident young woman. Anne Frank never loses her courage and gives herself, and her family hopes that one day they will no longer have to hide. Despite family problems and a tragic fate, everyone sticks together. On August 4, 1944, the house was stormed, and Anne and her sister were taken to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. After hard physical work, they both die of typhoid in February / March. Anne’s father, Otto Frank, is the only survivor of the family. Anne is still an idol and icon today, which keeps the memory of a terrible time that should never repeat itself.
Characterization of Dr. Heinrich Faust from Goethe’s “Faust I”
Characterization of “Faust” from Goethe’s “Faust. The first part of the tragedy.” (1808)
The drama “Faust. The first part of tragedy ”by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, published in Weimarer Klassik in 1808, is about Doctor Heinrich Faust. He devotes himself to the devil to satisfy his thirst for knowledge.
Faust is a fifty-year-old universal scholar who carries out scientific research in medicine, law, philosophy, and theology (cf. v. 354ff.). However, science does not know what the meaning of life is.
In the drama, he embodies less an individual than a type who is supposed to point out the aims and man’s mistakes. This is already visible in the prologue, in which God & the devil Mephisto make a bet that Faust makes the subject of the experiment. God believes in the good and the virtue in man, and Mephisto affirms their instinctuality.
Faust has a fixed daily routine in which he spends most of the time in his study. So he does not come into much contact with his environment and perceives the narrow room as a “dungeon” (v. 398). His character is characterized above all by his urge to know, to know “what holds the world together in its innermost being” (v. 382f.).
He is a rational, very self-centered person who is not very patient due to his strong desire for knowledge. This desire even drives him so far that he considers taking his own life and arriving at “new spheres of pure activity” (v. 704). Social interaction is less of his strengths, and neither is dealing with women. So far, he has not dealt with his instinctuality and is constantly coming into conflict with it.
After entering into a pact with Mephisto, after numerous temptations, he realizes that he has to deal with both sides of man, both instinctiveness and reason, to gain satisfaction and recognize meaning in life. The science that has just been learned is not sufficient for this.