In most newspaper stories, and even some magazine pieces, people are little more than a name, a title, age and address. "Janice Richardson, 35, advertising account manager at Hathaway Communications" or "William Masterson, 22, of 568B Crowne Court Apartments."
It takes a little more effort to zero in on the physical attributes that distinguish one person from another, but that's one of the writer's gifts that makes storytelling such a special experience.
Madelaine Blais, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author, captured the essence of this challenge in The Complete Book of Feature Writing. In her essay, "Don't forget the "Ordinary" People," she wrote, "If novelists are faced with the artistic challenge of getting people who are not alive to seem alive, the journalist faces essentially the same problem: how do you make people who are alive in reality come alive on paper."
In her ASNE award-winning St. Petersburg Times series, "Metal to Bone", Anne Hull shows how it can be done in this brief but evocative description of a father and son:
Carl's skin was black-gold, and his eyelashes curled over his eyes, just like Eugene's. His beard needed trimming, and the T-shirt he wore was faded and too small, but there was something proud and impenetrable about him.
A person can be sketched quickly and with powerful effect with a few brushstrokes, as Mitch Albom of the Detroit Free Press did with his portrait of a football player and convicted rapist from Best Newspaper Writing 1996:
He is kind of thin for a football player, with a gangly walk, dark hair that falls onto his forehead, a thick neck, crooked teeth, a few pimples.
If these prizewinning examples seem beyond your reach, let me demonstrate how beginning journalists (students in Poynter summer fellowship program--can inject humanity into their stories in small ways:
WITH JUST A WORD. Rebecca Catalanello could have simply written, "Jason Myron, 8." Instead, she wrote, "Jason Myron, a freckle-faced 8-year-old," and evoked an idelible image of a child's face.
IN A SENTENCE. Rhea Borja described a female minister this way: "She's a woman with a friendly and open air, more comfortable in Birkenstocks and summer dresses than the vestments of her trade."
A Prescription for Putting People on the Page
Look for models. Writers learn from other writers. I collect examples of physical descriptions that I admire and study them for content, tone, pacing, even sentence length. I find that even copying them out (being sure to note the source) helps me see the way the writer revealed the person and how I might do it with another subject.
the obituary writer, a short and rather shy man wearing horn-rimmed glasses and smoking a pipe
from "Mr. Bad News" by Gay Talese in Fameand Obscurity.
Like Talese, Lillian Ross of the New Yorker is another writer who's adept at bringing her subjects to life with vividly detailed and carefully crafted descriptions. I culled the following from profiles that Ross included in her most recent collection, Reporting Back:
He wears silver framed aviator style bifocals, sports on his little finger a gold college ring with an almost dime sized ruby in the middle. (Univ of Md. Class of 40), keeps a long cigar in his mouth (“I’m a chewer, not a smoker”), dresses conservatively (navy blue blazer, matching pants, too tight shirts, bright knit ties), and tears around the metropolian area in a telephone equipped car from one to another of his three offices (Forest Hills, West 5th St., Battery Park City) and to his buildings.
A genial forty three year old six footer with a graying beard
His own face cool and dry and cheerful, under a snowy thick man of hair. His gray suit was uncreased, a yellow print Hermes necktie neatly done under his chin.
His face was freshly sunburned, and he had on a navy blue worsted suit, a white shirt with a button down collar, and a blue and silver striped necktie held by a brass pin, in the shape of a pt boat that was inscribed “Kennedy 60.
Testino is 44, a good natured, fleshy, large faced loosely put together, six plus two inch footer who was handsomely attired in a Bergere dark green coat, a Charvet painterly green shirt open at the collar and black English broughans. He carried a couple of small contax cameras and took photographs of his own photographs and of people looking at them
Miss King is a statuesque, super confident, cheery former news anchor with a perfect face and perfect teeth, auburn hair worn straight to the collar and the immediately chummy, quick-talking eager breathy rhythms of the Rosie Barbara Katie sisterhood.
A gracious, jolly, pink-cheeked man wearing toroise-shell glasses and a tuxedo
Mr. Gould, unslept and unbarbered, was in town for a couple of days from his home in Toronto. He had on his usual baggy deark blue suit with outmoded overpadded shoulders, a raggedy brown ssweater and a worn out bluish necktie. A yellow pencil protruded eraser end up from his coat pocket.
At times Ross may be guilty of descriptive overkill and I'm sure some editors feel their finger itching over the delete key on some phrases. But reading Ross I begin to see how carefully she studies people and the judgments she makes about appearance and personality. (Many writers are afraid to make such judgments, fearful of seeming biased or even cruel. A suggestion: Write the description and then run it past a colleauge and your editor to get a reader's view.)
You can practice this particular craft challenge on friends and family. Describing people you know intimately will guide you to the type of details that swiftly capture a person and help readers visualize them.
That's what I did In "The Only Honest Man," an essay I published in River Teeth, a journal of creative nonfiction. My grandfather has been dead for more than 30 years but my memories of him are so strong (bolstered by consulting family photos) that it was easy to describe him:
My silver-haired and mustachioed grandfather, at 85 still the picture of a diplomat in his dark blue double-breasted suit, Fedora cocked at a jaunty angle, waving his polished hickory cane in the air, announcing to anyone in earshot, "There'll never be another Billy Scanlan.
Write a paragraph describing one of your siblings or a favorite relative.
Try it on news sources. The next time you're falling asleep during a boring meeting, assign yourself the task of writing one-line or one paragraph descriptions of every council member.
Report for story. If you're not routinely taking notes on the way people look--specific details about clothes, mannerisms, physical characteristics--you're cheating yourself of the raw material you'll need to bring someone to life when you sit down to write.
Make it a habit whenever you interview someone that you take time to get down the details that will help you bring that person alive.
Here's a list from notes I took during a recent interview:
He wears his hair like Ross Geller on Friends
He’s trim tall, dressed in all black
He’s in a shirt, collarless
He covers his mouth with a tent of his fingers and begins to type again
He rocks as he types when it begins going well. In deep concentration he stares at the screen, a touch typist, his mouth pursed and slightly open
His voice on the air is soothing
Dark black hair
Nike swoosh sunglasses
he’s got a husky lusty chuckle
He’s young handsome
Gleaming white teeth
Black hair glossy with gel
Black slipons and black socks
Hair parted on the left
His hands are epxressive
He tents them
Waves them to emphasize, invite, complete
The clean cut looks of an altar boy
Accept that you will probably take in ten times as much as you will ever use and if you're like me, accept that you'll rarely satisfied with the result. But keep at it. As Aristotle observed, "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit."
Getting in the habit of trying to put people onto the page will put you in good company.
"I definitely am trying to teach myself. to actually describe how someone looked, of actually writing down descriptive text. I’m trying to learn how to do that all the time and I’m not great at it. Some people have just such an incredible talent for that and I don’t really, but I am working on it." That's Ellen Barry, whose The Lost Boys of Sudan series won last year's American Society of Newspaper Editors award for non-deadline writing, talking.
Have a favorite example of a writer putting a person on the page? Share it here.
In any TV crime drama or British detective movie, a group of investigators is trying to solve the law case by defining the specific features of the potential offender. It can be noticed in any episode of "Colombo." Even fantastic TV series like "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer" or team Fang Gang from "Angel" deal a lot with personality identification. These skills are really useful in real life. However, if you have no idea on how to analyze one's personality, you'll be stuck in many life situations. That is why your school and college teachers often ask to write character analysis or analyze just any other subject.
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Harry Potter, Buffy Summers, Colombo, Sarah Connor, Hamlet, Othello, Thor, ... There are so many wonderful fiction and non-fiction characters to analyze!
Further, in the text, we will cover the best examples of how to write a character analysis, great ideas, structure, and most useful tips that help to write an in-depth literary analysis that works. Read the guide on formatting academic essays to gain extra credit from your tutor. The result of the efficient paper is your "A" and teacher's appreciation.
Types of Character Analysis Essays
Before writing a character analysis piece, students must observe possible types of heroes to discuss. They include:
Protagonist - the central figures in any story. The plot tells about their lives and deeds. In "Buffy" series, a protagonist would be Buffy Summers herself while Angel(us) dominates in his personal TV show.
Antagonists (often defined as villains) - the opposites of heroes who tend to change during the entire story. Thus, their nature is usually more interesting to describe. Keep in mind that each personality you choose does not have to be a human being; it can be a force of nature, animal, not a living creature, etc. In our example, Faith Lehane is one of the antagonists who switches from light side to dark after killing a human and returns to light closer to the show's culmination.
Major - these characters dominate the entire story. On the example of "Buffy," we can say Scooby Gang with its five and more members represent the majors of the show.
Minor - these characters start in a couple of episodes or book chapters. Their role can be significant in the development of other figures and entire plot. In our example, we would pick someone like Amy Madison Witch or Vampire Darla who both have an influence on the main characters of both shows.
Dynamic and static characters are two opposites. The first group keeps changing throughout the story while static heroes remain the same. Willow Rosenberg, the Witch, evolves from a shy straight school girl to the world's most powerful witch with a lesbian context; Harmony remains the same silly, naive blonde even once turned to a vampire.
Stereotypical - we believe everyone knows what a stereotype is. Jonathan represents a member of this category by being a typical high school nerd who has no friends and keeps on studying all the time.
Foils - the role of these characters is to contrast with the majors throughout the story. Faith is the opposite of Buffy, Spike is the opposite of Angel, Draco Malfoy is the opposite of Harry Potter, etc.
Three-dimensional (round) personalities. These are people with double-nature, and multiple characters in their mind are all great examples of 3-dimensonal heroes. Have you watched the movie titled "Split" with the guy who had 23 or more personalities living inside of him? That's what we mean!
Unlike round characters, there are one-dimensional (flat) ones who are boring to discuss and play an insignificant role in the story.
How to Write a Character Analysis: 8 Helpful Tips & Tricks!
Do not confuse personality analysis essay with a simple descriptive essay! This type of academic paper has several peculiar features to consider, and below we share top tips on how to write an analysis of a character.
- Mind Character Analysis Form
There is two possible analysis forms student should consider when he is ready to write such type of paper:
- A part of a literary analysis paper. It means a writer should first write the summary of the story plot, include other details, and end up with the strong character analysis.
- A separate essay that focuses on a single personality. Should the character wisely to write a powerful, interesting analysis paper (it is recommended to choose three-dimensional characters, heroes, villains, or foils).
As you can guess, the first type involves more text and more sections. Write about things like:
- Main idea
- All main heroes
- Compare & contrast
- Other elements of literary analysis
In the first case, you don't have too much space to write a detailed character analysis as you have to write about all elements equally. Thus, if your analysis essay must include more than 1000 words, and you have three literary elements to discuss, you should not write more than 200 words on each topic taking into account introduction and conclusion are always needed. These two parts figure as the summary. At the same time, there is more evidence to support your view on a particular hero.
A separate character paper is a bit less complex, and our article focuses on revealing its main rules and structure. If you are in a hurry, use the crucible character analysis example.
- Begin with the Basic Information
You should start with identifying the hero: name the original story, author, years of publishing, and write a summary. Then recall the hero to whom you wish to dedicate your analysis essay. Write some basic observations first:
- Full name and its interpretation (if any). E.g. name Angel is a short form of the evil vampire's name Angelus; Buffy is a short version of Elizabeth. The name of your target hero may have a different meaning than you expect. E.g., Faith is far from giving hope to people.
- Age - it is easier to explain the actions of different characters by taking into account their age: Dawn Summers often acts silly because she's a 15-year old kid.
- Gender (man/woman/unknown)?
- Social status - write about character's work and role in community he or she is living in (unemployed heroes tend to behave more aggressively than employed ones, for example)
- Physical appearance - it is not enough to write Cordelia Chase is beautiful, and she was a Prom Queen - more details are expected! Small elements of analysis include weight, height, and clothing. They point to the main qualities of your hero. Clark Kent wears glasses and strict suits to hide his Superman nature under the mask of office nerd.
- Speech patterns. See how speech, language, the manner of voice reveals different Shakespeare's characters nature in hamlet character analysis
The primary step is to describe your hero before composing a more detailed analysis. You should have a draft where you mention how each quality influences your chosen character and, perhaps, the whole story.
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- What Would Your Interview Questions Sound Like?
Pretend that you have a chance to talk to your hero: what questions would you write down to conduct an analysis? Read the original story to find some proper quotes to answer these questions; make sure to cite every quote properly. Choose something like:
- Character's background: has Harry Potter's difficult childhood and complicated relationships with family members made him a bad person?
- Write about the way other people talk about your hero. In other words, get and share the feedback from Hermione, Ron, Draco, and Hogwarts teachers.
- Try to imagine how this character would describe his own In case such information is missing in the book, try to guess as the students do with Betty Parris, John Proctor, and other people in the crucible character analysis example.
- The analysis essay requires a short review of the relations with other people. Highlight the name of his friends and enemies (Willow, Wesley, Ron, Hermione, Leonardo) - it may tell a lot.
- Write down the ways your individual acts in different force majeure situations.
- Any good character analysis example involves these recommended questions - take the time to read outstanding examples of expert writing.
- Use Supportive Materials
We recommend using extra study materials and prepared templates to write a character analysis essay every teacher wants to see. The best way to write a perfect analysis essay is to find excellent samples online.
We also encourage you to try one of the worksheets attached. Try to keep your ideas and entire character study organized:
More Tips to Observe
Those were the main tips each student must remember when writing a character analysis essay; it is time to read the last three recommendations. Also, it is interesting to read this article to find ways to write a successful essay of any type as a part of English test.
- Find a Focus
When you write, it is critical to concentrate on something. Even though the main goal is to conduct a character's in-depth analysis, you should still define the main point of the paper. Name all features of your hero and his or her role in the story. Then, highlight only one trait that you find to be the most curious. In other words, define that one thing that made you choose this character (unless you were assigned your topic).
Here is an example of great analysis focus. Both Harry Potter and Buffy Summers have a hard mission they should accomplish by sacrificing their own lives. There is a common term used to describe such heroes as these two and Neo from "The Matrix" - The Chosen One. Write down about this trait in your character analysis.
- Body of Evidence
Present evidence from credible and up-to-date sources to support every aspect of your character analysis. As far as most of the time you will have to provide analysis of fictional character, scientific materials and academic journals won't do. Be ready to find evidence from the piece of literature you're working on. You will have to prove your awareness with the in-text citations and indirect quotes from the book or movie your hero comes from.
- It's All about Powerful Conclusion!
At the end of your character analysis essay, you need to find out whether the information you have provided throughout the text would be useful for detectives. Will they identify a character using your writing? Have you mentioned the most outstanding and important traits of your chosen person? A killer analysis essay conclusion might reveal one more aspect of your target character which would be a shock to the audience. Finally, you must write down the reasons for choosing this character out of all other alternatives.
How to Write a Character Analysis Essay
Do you wonder what to include in a character analysis paper? There are three things that make any character analysis essay specific.
Relationships: Write down the names of people with whom your target character interact most of all during the entire story development. Explain specific goals for choosing these characters to describe the target hero. On the examples of their relationships, a writer can point to the place of the chosen character in the story and explain his actions.
Author's Main Goal: When you write about the personality, it is important to specify the character's type (see the full list of types above). Write down why you think the author has created this specific character. Explain his/her role in the lives of other story heroes and entire plot; conclude with the lesson this character gives.
Organization: The structure of character analysis essay is different from the regular academic paper. If you write about specific fiction personality, there is no need to share any research findings. Follow a five-paragraph formula:
- Introduction paragraph
- Body paragraph number one
- Body paragraph number two
- Body paragraph number three
- Conclusion paragraph
An introduction must be based on the powerful thesis statement, which is the main argument in your essay. Make sure to attract attention from the opening paragraph. Involve a hook sentence, referencing the title of the chosen writing piece along with its author, and revealing the purpose of writing in a clear, concise thesis sentence. A good thesis includes at least three subtopics in the order the writer is going to write his character analysis essay: from the least to most important. The rest of the essay has a typical academic paper structure. Write an impressive conclusion which will motivate the readers to like/dislike the target personality.
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