Direct and Indirect Characterization

Direct Characterization

Direct characterization is an author’s tool to tell you directly what a character is like.  You will often see direct characterizations in stories but overlook them because they are usually quite common when an author introduces a new character.

Direct Characterization Example #1

Charles Dunford is a caring man.

Rather than being shown that Charles Dunford is a caring man (by telling a story of how he saved a cat) the author opts to tell us directly what type of person he is.  That way, we expect him or her to act in that manner throughout the story.

Direct Characterization Example #2

He does not lie to his parents.

Again, we expect that our character will be honest to his parents.

Indirect Characterization

We see indirect characterization often in short stories because a character’s action define the character.  With indirect characterization we must infer (guess or conclude) from the characters actions what type of person he or she is.

Indirect Characterization Example #1

For example,

Chris threw the rock as hard as he could at the mail truck.

Just from this simple sentence we can infer so many things.

  1. Chris is angry (I mean he threw a rock at a mail truck!)
  2. Chris cannot control his
    emotions (I know its only one sentence but can you prove other wise?)
  3. Chris is a trouble maker (It
    can only mean trouble if you are throwing a rock at a federal vehicle.)

With indirect characterization, we must assume things and make great leaps at times to characterize someone.  That is why, in literature, there are so many people arguing over character motives, because we, as the reader, are left to interpret a great deal of information any way we want!

How about this example,

Indirect Characterization Example #2

Lets say your friend calls up your boy/girlfriend and tells them that you have been cheating on him/her with someone.

You can assume or infer  a million things here:

  1. Your friend is jealous that you have a boyfriend or
    girlfriend and is trying to keep you all to his/her self
  2. Your friend likes your
    boy/girlfriend and is trying to break you up
  3. Your friend actually saw you
    cheating on the person and is being honest.
  4. Your friend doesn’t like you
    anymore for some reason and is trying to sabotage your relationship.
  5. Etc.

The list goes on and on.  Being able to point out a time when there are indirect characterizations or highlighting them, makes it easier to come back and quote if necessary to back a up a point (like the ones listed above).



A theme is, quite simply, a reoccurring idea that the author discusses in an essay, short story,novel or poem.  Because a theme is reoccurring, when your teacher or professor asks you to explore a theme in a novel, you should have plenty of examples.  Avoid choosing something very specific where it may have only occurred once.

Along with being reoccurring, themes are generally broad. For example, a book about war will probably discuss the effects of violence or, simply, violence.

Many things other than books have themes and correspond to theme in literature; for example, parties often have themes (aliens, hip-hops stars, circus, western).  If there is a western theme, you of course would find people wearing cowboy boots, cowboy hats, revolvers, spurs, chewing tobacco, etc.

Unfortunately, themes in literature aren’t like being invited to a themed party.  The theme is never laid out in front of you,”This book will be about violence.”

Reading a novel is more like being invited to a theme party but without knowing what the theme will be.  However, you have all the evidence in front of you: cowboy boots, cowboy hats, and spurs.

Lets try an example shall we?


The main character of a story is nervous about going to a party. His best friend is not as shy and asks this girl on a date to the party,leaving our main character to go by himself. Although the girl he likes is going, she doesn’t have a date and is waiting to be asked.  Finally, the party comes and the girl confronts our main character on why he is alone.  He replies that he was too frightened to ask the girl he wanted to ask.  The girl tells our main character that he should have more confidence and ask.  He finally musters up the courage and asks her to go out with him.  She declines, having already accepted an offer from his best friend.

So what themes are in this example?

Betrayal– the best friend asks out his best friend’s interest.

Confidence/shyness – Our main character lost out because he was not confident.

Destroying Friendship – main character’s friend destroys the friendship by taking the girl.