Character refers to traits or manners and at the same time to the fictional human being, animal or thing in a story. For instance, Okonkwo is a character in Things Fall Apart, Snowball is a character in Animal Farm, Romeo and Juliet are characters in the play Romeo and Juliet. At the same time, these characters exhibit certain characters/traits – they behave in particular ways. Characterization refers to the author’s creation, representation and development of characters in the story. It is also the act of creating and describing characters in literature. This includes descriptions of characters’ physical attributes, personality, actions and thoughts. Remember that character traits can be presented directly or indirectly.
Direct or explicit presentation/characterization: It is where the author or other character within the story describes or reveals traits of a character through the use of descriptive words. In other words, it is when the author displays the character’s traits straightforwardly, or through the comments made by another character involved with him/her in the story. For example, the character of Unoka in Things Fall Apart: “In his day he was lazy and improvident and was quite incapable of thinking about tomorrow.” In Animal Farm, written by George Orwell, Old Major is described:“He was twelve years old and had lately grown rather stout, but he was still a majestic-looking pig, with a wise and benevolent appearance.”
Indirect or implicit presentation/characterization: It is when we get hints that make us think about a character and make conclusions about his/her character. This means that the writer shows the character’s personality through his/her speech, thoughts, actions, appearance and interaction with other characters. In Things Fall Apart for instance: “Having spoken plainly so far, Okoye said the next half a dozen sentences in proverbs.” This makes the reader think of Okoye as being persuasive. Another example is “After working for one hour, he left others by saying that he is tired.”This can show the readers that the character is lazy.
How to identify characters and explain their behaviours.
In studying a short story, novel, or a play, we need to identify and know the characters very well. We identify them by looking at:
- The physical description of a character in terms of size, colour, and general appearance.
- What the character says about him/herself and about other issues affecting the society.
- The character’s actions in his/her interactions with other characters in the society.
- What other characters in the story say about him/her.
- The character’s thoughts, desires, dreams and wishes.
Characters are usually described by single adjectives such as intelligent, loving, naïve, courageous, hardworking, lazy, humorous, good, bad, funny, ugly, rude, polite, beautiful, kind, careless, honest, humble, brave, serious, stubborn, loyal, gullible, selfish, generous, self-confident, cruel, respectful, brilliant, considerate, mischievous, daring, patriotic, successful, mysterious, hopeful, lucky, ambitious, curious, witty, determined, calm, foolish, miserable, wise, timid, faithful,…
This means that one does not say character X cares about people but rather, character X is caring. One should also avoid ambiguous words while describing a character. For example, rather than say character Y is not disciplined, one should be more specific and say he or she is rude or dishonest.
The author creates different characters. They can have both positive and negative traits. Therefore, the author has to show what makes a character behave the way he/she does or why he/she behaves in that way and how his/her behaviours affect others.