How to Write Characterization Papers

If a fictional character seems human, the writer is truly great.
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If an author creates characters that seem more like real people than fictional beings, the writer has accomplished an incredibly difficult task. Humanizing characters is one of the most daunting things a writer faces, and your ability to decide whether or not characters come across as real or phony is also a valued skill. Characterization is the act of creating a character, and it is your job in a characterization paper to analyze how well the author does this. By analyzing the fundamental elements of a successful characterization paper, you'll discover how to write one.

1 Character Stance

Even though a characterization paper is specific in the sense that the overarching topic of character analysis is at its center, you still have the freedom to choose your central argument. Pick a position regarding a particular character that you believe will sustain the length requirement of your paper. If you believe the protagonist’s moral maturity is juxtaposed with her gradual weight loss and you wish for the claim to be your thesis, state it clearly in your introductory paragraph.

2 Action Justification

Similar to the way you would construct a traditional thesis-driven essay, the body of your characterization paper is comprised of claims that support your central argument. A major way to support your claims about a particular characterization analysis is to provide an action the character demonstrated that supports it. For example, if you want to prove your protagonist demonstrated moral growth, present an action she did early in the text that was morally unsound and then an action of moral strength she did later in the text.

3 Dialogue Justification

Another way to prove a specific analysis concerning characterization is to provide moments of dialogue the character spoke that supports your claim. If the protagonist runs over a cat and it’s questionable whether or not she meant to, but you claim she didn’t mean to, a carefully chosen piece of dialogue highlighting her love for animals could help support your analysis of the protagonist.

4 Counterargument

A well thought out and truly powerful argument will have a clear counterargument. Even though it’s important to focus on supporting the central argument in your characterization paper, an instructor will acknowledge and praise you for identifying the counterargument to your stance if executed correctly. If you highlight a counterargument and disprove it, it strengthens your argument. For example, if you recognize that some may view the protagonist as racist because of her dislike for Gerald, a white man, but would be wrong because Gerald once punched the protagonist without reason, it broadens your argument.

Jake Shore is an award-winning Brooklyn-based playwright, published short story writer and professor at Wagner College. His short fiction has appeared in many publications including Litro Magazine, one of London's leading literary magazines. Shore earned his MFA in creative writing from Goddard College.