Element Four: Characters Part 2

Hey there!

Welcome to Part 2 of our Characters topic! This Creative Writing Elements series has been such an adventure and I want to personally thank you all for following along in this process. I hope that you have enjoyed reading these articles as much as I have enjoyed writing them!


In this post, we will be looking at how authors develop their characters throughout the course of a story. They use two prominent types of characterization: direct and indirect.

Direct Characterization

Direct characterization deals with statements. Lesha Myers explains in her book Windows to the World: An Introduction to Literary Analysis that “in direct characterization, a narrator might tell us something about the character, describe the character’s appearance, [or] let us listen to the character’s thoughts,” (Myers, 76).

When a writer employs direct characterization they provide upfront details about the character. This could involve anything from divulging the character’s internal thoughts (aka Internal Dialogue) and their behavior to describing their appearance, setting and other character’s reaction(s) to them.

An example of direct characterization would be something like the following:

            The dark-haired boy looked up at the sky and remembered all the long, starry nights he had spent in this exact spot. All the memories he shared with his family. These thoughts dredged up feelings that stung his heart and brought tears to his eyes. He sat there on that very roof and wept.

I use a lot of direct characterization in my creative writing because I like to tell my readers exactly what a character is doing. This comes at the expense of allowing readers to assume things, but I personally enjoy reading details such as ‘his brown eyes smoldered,’ or ‘her kinky curls danced playfully in the autumn breeze.‘ This causes me to envision the characters more.

Indirect Characterization

Contrasting with direct characterization, indirect characterization relies heavily on inference and requires us to use our current knowledge combined with what the author tells us to draw a suitable conclusion. According to Myers, “writers might ask us to make inferences based on…details in four methods of indirect characterization: aspects of the setting that reflect the influence of the character, the character’s actions and mannerisms, the reaction of others to the character, [and] the character’s speech,” (Myers, 76).

The next time you pick up a novel, pay attention to the things the author causes you to infer about the characters. Authors use techniques like description of appearance, setting and unique speech patterns to create characters.

Wordsmiths are thoroughly aware that most individuals have a whole arsenal of preconceptions at hand to fill in characterization gaps and they utilize this to help flesh out their characters. Phrases such as ‘she sipped on her Starbucks latte before scurrying to class,’ tell us this person is still in school, loves coffee and is possibly very late. This combines to create an overall impression of a very busy person relying on caffeine to get through life. Indirect characterization such as this causes inference naturally, allowing the readers to create their own picture of the character without being told how to view them.

An example of indirect characterization would go something like this:

Nikki smiled when her mother brought her the repaired doll. Taking it gently in her hands, she looked up and asked her mother, “Momma, do you think Mariana will like it even though I broke it?”

            “Of course,” her mother replied as she wiped away Nikki’s crocodile tears. “She loves you and she’ll love anything you give her.”

            They both turned to look when Mariana walked in the room. A gleam crossed her face when she saw the doll in Nikki’s hands. Nikki looked at her mother and then back to Mariana. “I got it for you,” she whispered. “It’s broken, but Momma fixed it. Do you like it?”

            “Do I like it?” Mariana asked. “I love it!”

From this passage you can infer three things:

  1. Nikki is relatively young
  2. Nikki cares about Mariana (Mariana might even be her sister)
  3. Mariana likes dolls

Basically –

Authors have a lot up their sleeve to describe their characters with. When they aren’t telling you something point-blank, they’re describing things in a way that causes you to infer it. It’s truly amazing how each technique combines to create our beloved characters. Once again, it’s like life – some things you notice directly about people and other things you have to guess at. Work this into your writing and you should be well on your way to the wonders of authorship!

All the best,


Source: Myers, Lesha. Windows to the World: An Introduction to Literary Analysis. Locust Grove: Institute for Excellence in Writing, 2008. Print


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