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How to Write a Character Analysis Essay

If you study a literary course, you will be required to analyze characters throughout your academic life. A character analysis essay is a piece of critical writing that evaluates the traits that define a literary character. It aims at describing the attributes of the people who take part in a play, novel, story, film or any other piece of literary work. It also covers the role they play in the development of the story and author’s ideas as well as the conflicts that they experience.

When writing a character analysis essay, it is important to be critical, inquisitive as well as factual. In this post, we shall guide you on how to write a character analysis essay that will get you a grade A!

Types of characters

If you’ve been instructed to write a comprehensive essay about the characterization of a novel, then you need to analyze all the characters mentioned in the book. This doesn’t happen in most cases, unless in advanced literary courses such as at the degree level. But, in any case, you will need to know what type of a character you are dealing with.

The characters that an author uses in his novel or story don’t have equal responsibilities. Some are more important than others. But they all play the role of helping in the development of the themes that the copyright has in mind.

The main objective of a character analysis essay is to point out the roles that characters play in a literary work. So, they can be grouped according to these roles. The following are some of the characters that are used by authors in their works.

Protagonists

These are the heroes or legends in a literary piece. The author portrays them as the ‘good’ people who resolve conflicts with the interest of others at heart. They are mostly selfless, caring and brave.

Antagonists

These are the ‘villains’. They are important in a piece of work as they help develop it by opposing the protagonist. The antagonist could be a human, circumstance, natural power or any form of being. The author may personify objects to take the role of antagonists whose main role is to stand on the way of the protagonist’s success. The antagonist is hated by most readers as they cause conflict to the ‘good’ people.

Major characters

These are the main characters who run the storyline. In most cases, they are only one or two. The major characters could be those that coalesce around the protagonist or antagonist. Also, it could be the antagonist or protagonist themselves. Without them, it is hard for the author to express of his themes.

Minor characters

They play minor roles in the storyline. Sometimes, they may even fade in or out of the literary work. In most cases, they represent stereotypes or static characters. It’s rare to have your tutor demand a character analysis on a minor character- unless in advanced academic levels.

Dynamic characters

This describes characters who changes within the story. In most cases, the antagonist and protagonist are dynamic.

Static characters

These are characters who do not change at all. They just stay as they were when the story started.

Stereotypes

Some authors use typical characters to fill up the space. They are known everywhere and they bring nothing ‘novel’ in a literary piece. These include characters such as the boring housewife, desperate street beggar and bespectacled tech-geek.

The Process of Writing a Character Analysis Essay

Long before you’ve even started thinking about writing your essay, you should have read the literary work extensively. Remember, you cannot analyze a character who you don’t know about. So, you should familiarize yourself with the author’s ideas by reading the book, poem, or watching the film. This goes a long way into giving you a hands-on understanding of the literary work.

If you are reading the literary work specifically for character analysis, you should do it with attention to the revelations that the author makes about the character. These revelations are made through the conversations, plot as well as the actual narrative in the story.

1). Read the story to answer questions about the character

It’s crucial to read the story with a bias towards the character. This means that you should put more concentration on what the author says about them than to the rest of the plot. While reading, try to pick answers for questions such as:

How does the writer describe the character?

For instance, in the classical Theban play ‘Oedipus Rex’, Sophocles describes Oedipus as a mighty, determined and ill-fated boy who kills his father and then marries his mother. It may sound as if the young man is morally loose and violent, it’s all controlled by powers beyond human comprehension. He is an illustration of how fate can control an individual’s life.

What is the relationship of the character with other characters?

You need to know how the character treats other characters in the story and how he gets treated. Also, you should note how that changes his identity. Oedipus wasn’t a murderer until he was threatened by two men at the crossroads. He fought back and that’s how he killed them.

How does the character develop the plot?

The role that a character plays in the development of themes, other characters and authors ideas is another important point for consideration when reading. Oedipus Rex lives with the royal family that adopts him. When he decides to run away from home and the terrible prophecy, he finds himself in his real home where he fulfills it.

What challenges does the character experience?

You also need to note the conflicts that the subject character faces. These include those posed by other characters in the story, the society or nature. For instance, Oedipus Rex tries to fight with the prophecy that he’d kill his father and marry his mother. The people around him who know about the prophecy treat him with suspicion. It remains a pesky itchy thorn in his flesh throughout his life.

 

2). Organization: Format of Writing a Character Analysis Essay

After you’ve read the literary work intensively, it’s time to write up the essay. It’s always important to have the facts on your fingertips when you do this. Again, do not haste to write and finish the essay. Instead, pay attention to the organization of your work. Like we always do in other pieces of writing described on our website, we’ll give you the outline, explanation and samples of each part.

Character analysis essay outline

An outline is the framework onto which the essay will be written. It ensures that the article follows a specific arrangement or order. Now, the outline is similar to the one used in other essays. The main parts are the title, introduction, body and conclusion. The other minor differences occur in the content of the sentences and paragraphs.

Title

Some examinees overlook the importance of a title in an essay. But, the essay may not make any sense at all if it lacks the very part that describes it. The title should be concise and comprehensive. It should tell the reader what the essay is about.

E.g.:  Character Analysis of Oedipus the King Based on Sophocles’ Play ‘Oedipus Rex’

Introduction Paragraph

Like in other essays, the introduction part of a character description article tells the reader what to expect. It should therefore be well written in such a way that attracts the interest of the reader. If you want to make it enticing, you can use a startling statement or as a question. Also, include a brief description of the subject character to generate interest even to those who may not have read the story.

E.g:

Have you heard of the young prince who killed his father and married his mother? It’s Oedipus Rex! He was a slave of fate, always trying to run away from it but he couldn’t. The prophecy had been proclaimed, and poor Oedipus was the victim. Oedipus the King- as translations of the Sophocles’ 432 BC Greek book call him- literally tried to run away from home to avoid fulfilling the prophecy. But fate persisted him and instead, he ended up getting reunited with his real blood family where he fulfilled the prophecy. But who exactly was Oedipus? Let’s try and find out! 

Body Paragraph 

This will have as many paragraphs as your tutor may require of you to write. Every paragraph needs to have 6-8 sentences and about 100 words. Keep it brief and straight to the point. Again, ensure that every paragraph addresses a particular attribute. The main ideas that the body of a character analysis essay should address include the personality, background, dynamism, use of language, relationship with other characters, and conflicts that face the character and how he or she overcomes them.

Physical appearance: Look out for the quotes that reveal how the character looks. Then, explain how that appearance reveals about them.

Background: All psychologists agree that the history of a person is likely to influence their behavior and character. So, it is important to discuss the character’s background. For instance, where they were raised, and early childhood behavior. Then, state what among the past experiences influences their behavior.

Personality: Note down whether the character acts on emotions or on reason. Again, describe the values that they hold as well as their goals and ambitions.

Language: Then, analyze the character’s language. The diction of a character will tell you much about their character. Is it vulgar, calm, authoritative or polite?

Relationships: How does your character relate with other people? Do they have families, friends or colleagues? How do their interactions with other characters influence their personality, mission or the entire plot?

Dynamism: How does the character change in the story? Major characters often face conflicts within the story and you need to describe how it influences their personality.

Stating the facts

When you are describing a character, you should be sure to quote directly from the novel or piece or literature. Each of your paragraph should have a particular point that it covers. This means that you can have a textual quotation on the paragraph to factually illustrate your point. This gives it a sense of credibility. Read on to know how you can accurately and neatly provide evidence in your assignments.

Sample body paragraph 

Find sample body paragraph under the PIE technique.

The conclusion Paragraph of a character analysis essay

The conclusion is the part where you sign off. As a first-class student, you need to make it count. In it, you need to include a final analysis statement- or a verdict. In addition, you can also summarize the essay in a creative way.

Sample conclusion

To sum up, it’s knowledge that fires up Oedipus’ heart. Yet, after he has suffered long enough, he attains wisdom. He lives with the hope of being successful in fighting fate. Most definitely, he wants to defy the odds of the prophecy and although he loses the challenge, he’s an embodiment of integrity. In the end of the play, Oedipus leads his daughters as well as the king of Athens to his final resting place. Deep in him is a conviction that he’s already regained his sight. That comes along with integrity and eventually he goes to be with the power that he always lived to fight.

How to Use Textual Evidence When Writing a Character Analysis Essay

Literary assignments require you to support your ideas with evidence from the story. For instance, you should incorporate quotations directly from the text you are writing about. This will help you support the points that you are putting across. When you quote facts directly from the text, your work will be more credible and it will be easy to express your ideas effectively.

Use the PIE technique

PIE is a short form for Point, Illustrate and Explain. It will help you write the perfect, most credible character analysis essay. For instance, when you have stated your point in the first sentence, you should illustrate it using quotations from the text. Then, the next sentence should be about explaining how well the quote helps in making your point. The PIE technique is widely used and recommended as it makes literary essays neat, comprehensive and credible.

Here’s a sample paragraph of a character analysis essay:

Oedipus is a selfless hero who has the interest of all his subjects at heart. He regards them respectfully and his language is evident. For instance, speaking to Creon, he says, “Speak to everyone, for I consider their pain more important even than that of my own soul.” This shows clearly the extent to which he’s ready to serve his people as the king.

Anchoring the text in the essay

In an academic paper, it is not in order for a quotation to stand in itself as a sentence. You need to show that you haven’t just lifted things straight from the story. Instead, you need to anchor the quotes using your own words. In short, you write them as direct speech but in a reported way. Here’s an example.

INCORRECT: “Speak to everyone, for I consider their pain more important even than that of my own soul.”

CORRECT: “Speak to everyone, for I consider their pain more important even than that of my own soul,” Oedipus says.

Also CORRECT: He says “Speak to everyone, for I consider their pain more important even than that of my own soul.

Restrain your quotes

It is crucial to quote facts from the text. However, you should not abuse this provision. Your essay should be made up of less than 10% quotations and at least 90% of your own words. Otherwise, it will look highly plagiarized. The reader might also think you are too lazy. Plus, when you over-quote, the reader will find it ineffective to understand or follow the essay. It could also irritate your professor and they might end up giving you a poor grade. So, use the quotations in a way that is sensible and only when needed.

Additional tips

Even when you know how to write the essay, you may not be perfect if you don’t know the following killer tips!

Choose the right character

As we saw earlier, the literary work will have several types of characters. Some of them will play major roles while others will fade in and out of the storyline. Some professors will give you specific characters to cover in your essay, but; if they don’t, then you need to find one yourself. It is advisable to go for the major characters. This is because they are dynamic and have complex motivations that are worthy to analyze. Otherwise, minor characters who only are only good or bad may not have enough material with which we can analyze in an essay.

Take notes as you read the essay

You may have met people who have a great memory- but, don’t fall in the trap of pretending to be one. When you are reading the book, have a notebook where you can write down the important elements of the character you want to write about. This will give you enough material to write about the character.

Choosing the idea

Some tutors may require you to discuss the character in line with a particular line of thought. In such a case, you need to check from your notes to find the main idea that links them. This will be your thesis. Sometimes, it could be the ‘lesson’ that the author is trying to pass across by using the character.

Revise your work

Do not be too hasty to finish that you forget to polish your work. Read (and reread) your work to look out for mistakes you may have made. This places you at a high notch in regard to getting the best grade possible.

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