written by: Shelia Odak
• edited by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch
• updated: 1/7/2012
A good character study essay shows that you not only thoroughly read the work you were assigned, but that you also thought about the characters, including their roles in the story and motivations. Follow these steps on how to do a character study in order to compose a solid, well-crafted paper.
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Beyond the discussions of the opening and closing paragraphs, these elements can be covered in your essay in any order. Choose to present the information in the most logical way for your paper.
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How to Begin
Begin by describing the character you have chosen for your study and why you chose to analyze him or her. Your opening paragraph should end with your essay’s thesis. The thesis is the main idea you want to convey in your paper. In one or two sentences, explain the point that your essay will make about the character.
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Types of Characters
It is important that your essay defines what type of character you are writing about. Is your character the protagonist (the hero) or the antagonist (the villain)? Did you choose a major or a minor character? Is your character changed by the action of the book (a dynamic character) or does he/she remain the same (a static character)?
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Discuss the traits that define and motivate your character. These traits can range from physical things, such as if your character walks with a limp, to psychological quirks, like an intense hatred of the upper class. Think about how the character relates to the other players in the story. Is he/she kind or cruel, moral or immoral when dealing with others? Is the character like or unlike the other characters in the text? Remember to include discussions of both the strengths and weaknesses of your character. Few characters are all good or all bad.
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Analyze how the defining traits of your character influence his or her actions and in turn influence the action of the plot. Does the character act without thinking or does he/she give careful consider before taking action? How do the actions of the character influence the other players in the story? Do your character’s choices drive the action of the plot? If the character's choices do not influence the action of the plot, why is he/she important to the story? What would be lost if that character was not a part of the book?
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Look for Symbolism
Many authors like to include symbols that represent aspects of their characters. Look for objects that are associated with your character. Any form of repetition that surrounds the character has the potential to be symbolic.
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Relationship to the Conflict
What is the conflict that drives your character? This has the potential to be many things. Is the conflict external or internal? Is the conflict against other people or against something abstract, such as fate or evil? Discuss how your character attempts to solve this conflict and what that says about him or her.
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Summarize Your Ideas
Your ending paragraph is your chance to restate the main points of your paper. Most teachers do not want to see new ideas at the end of your paper. You want to paraphrase the main ideas you have made previously and restate your thesis.
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Do not spend the majority of the essay retelling the plot of the story. Balance the amount of plot summary with analysis. Your instructor wants you to demonstrate that you read the material, but he or she mainly wants to see that you have evaluated the text and come up with your own ideas about it.
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Helpful Resources on How to Do a Character Study
How to Write a Character Analysis: Teaching College English