How To Write a Characterization: Structure & Features


A characterization summarizes the most important characteristics of a character in a novel. This includes both external and internal characteristics. We will help you further with the most important features of a characterization, a detailed structure, numerous adjectives for description and examples for illustration.

A characterization is needed in school in English lessons and sometimes even later in studies. Whether essay, written exam or scientific paper – we have put together everything you need to know so that you can quickly and successfully write a characterization.

Definition of a characterization

Although the terms “characterization” and “person description” are often used interchangeably, there is a big difference. A description of a person relates to the external characteristics of a person (such as clothing, body, facial expressions , gestures ), while a characterization also includes internal characteristics (such as thoughts, feelings , character traits).

A characterization serves to make the appearance and essence of a figure tangible. It can help you to describe the relationships between the characters or to make predictions about the future actions of the respective character. Also of character development are also included. In an interpretation or an essay, a characterization can help you to support your arguments .

Direct and indirect characterization in the text

The figures in a text can be characterized either directly or indirectly. In a direct characterization , either the narrator, another character or even your character describes their character. For example: “Lila has always been moody.” From this statement the character trait emerges directly: Lila is a moody person who quickly changes his mood.

With indirect characterization, you can interpret a person’s characteristics using their indirect signals. This means expressions of the person himself as well as feelings and thoughts. For example: “I was concerned about going to the school ball. Afterwards someone wants to talk to me, or worse: someone asks me to dance. ” From this statement you can deduce that the speaker is insecure, shy of contact and does not like to dance.

Structure and content of a characterization

Before you start your characterization, you should mark all the places that give clues to the character traits of the selected figure . You can also use sticky notes to memorize the relevant pages and make short notes. Always add the page number to notes so that you can find your examples again afterwards.

The aim of characterization is to find hidden traits, to establish interpersonal relationships, to uncover contradictions and to show the development of the figure in a comprehensible manner. So you can also make possible prognoses for the further development of the plot.


The introduction of the characterization always begins with an introductory sentence. In this you should state the type of text, the author, the title of the work, the year of publication and the subject of the work . In a second sentence you can also briefly introduce the character that you are looking at more closely.

The Body 

The main part of the characterization is divided into an outside view and an inside view. Always start with the external characteristics of the person. First you can name characteristics of appearance, then you can say something about the social situation and finally describe the language and behavior that you can see from the outside. Sometimes it is more appropriate to start with the social situation first. That always depends on the focus of your characterization.

Then you go to the inside view. Why does the person behave the way they do? What thoughts and goals does she have? How is it influenced by society or its environment? Also dedicate yourself to the character’s relationship to the other characters and note whether there has been a development and thus the character is dynamic and complex or whether the character is static and simple. Here you can find all the important points of the main part at a glance:

Outside view:

  • External appearance (age, gender, height, physique, gait, hair color, facial features, facial expressions, gestures, scars, birthmarks, jewelry, clothing)
  • Social situation (origin, education, social milieu, circle of friends , family, relationship, job, social position)
  • Language (communication situation, way of speaking, part of the conversation)
  • External action (visible behavior, reactions to the environment, habits, activities)
  • Social impact (apparent impact of the figure on its environment)

Inside view:

  • Inner action (thoughts, motives, goals, inner conflicts, emotional world)
  • Social influence (external factors that influence the thinking and behavior of the character)
  • Role within the person constellation (relationship to other people, dramaturgical function)
  • Development (change of character, dynamic / round or static character)


Finally, you can briefly summarize your observations and give your own opinion . Both criticism and praise are allowed here. You should also evaluate the importance of the person and their relationship with other people to the overall work.

Writing a characterization: 5 important features

You should always be careful to adhere to the five characteristics of a characterization. They concern the choice of the right time and order as well as the correct quotation, clear language and the contribution of your personal opinion. Read through the following characteristics before you begin writing your characterization.

  1. A characterization is always written in the present or perfect tense.

You describe the text and the figure in the current state. Therefore, you should primarily use the present tense : “The character Linda is shy and very careful.” In some cases, the perfect tense is also suitable : “Linda has learned to get rid of her shyness and has become more self-confident .”

  1. In the main part the external characteristics are described first, then the internal ones.

This order is important because the reader will first look at the person’s physical appearance before assigning characteristics to them. You can also play with the reader’s expectations if certain external features do not match the cliché of character traits. Make sure to make paragraphs to visually separate the different perspectives on the figure and to make your text more comfortable for the reader.

  1. It contains quotations as evidence of your arguments.

The statements you make during the characterization must be substantiated with examples from the text. You can use a direct quote in quotation marks as an example or you can substantiate your statement with a comparison in the text. In any case, you have to make it clear where you are taking the example from.

To do this, write the page number and the line in brackets after your quote. For a direct quote you write, for example: (p. 12, line 3). You can also add an indirect quote with “cf.” (compare) provided, so: (see p. 12, line 3).

  1. The language is clear and contains many adjectives to describe it.

Since the goal of characterization is to make a character as tangible as possible, you need a lot of adjectives and comparisons . So you can create a comprehensible picture of your figure. In the following chapter we have collected various adjectives for you to describe a person externally and internally.

  1. There is no personal evaluation in the introduction and main part.

You should always save your own opinion until the end when characterizing. Even if you are using very figurative language, it is important to be objective in the body . In the final part you can then express criticism , evaluate the development, the relationships or the character itself and emphasize its importance for the work.

Helpful adjectives for characterization

In this chapter you will find some helpful adjectives for characterization. They relate to both the outside view ( person description ) and the inside view and offer you examples of how you can describe a person. We then have three text examples that should illustrate what a characterization can look like.

Adjectives for describing people (outside perspective)

  • External appearance:
    elegant, neat, tasteful, stylish, extravagant, conspicuous, youthful, feminine, boyish, unkempt, inconspicuous, strong, stocky corpulent, muscular, delicate, thin, pale, tanned, rosy, freckled, large, small, expressionless, thoughtful, affected, female, male, brown-haired, blond, black-haired, red-haired, fashionable, unfashionable, natural, made up, sporty, playful
  • Body language:
    graceful, graceful, casual, relaxed, easy-going, hectic, nervous, nimble, brisk, energetic, artificial, exaggerated, resolute
  • Language:
    colloquial, dialect, talkative, silent, taciturn, speaking slowly or quickly, dialectal, vulgar, coarse, cultivated, formal, scientific, thoughtful, elected, communicative, extroverted, introverted

Adjectives to describe character traits (inner view)

  • Nature:
    melancholic , depressive, shy, level-headed, peaceful, fearful , timid, choleric, hysterical, quick-tempered, adapted, irritable, aggressive, impulsive, spirited, optimistic , pessimistic, lively, restless , calm, serious, humorous, attentive, selfish, social, indignant, spontaneous , authoritarian, submissive
  • Character traits:
    vain, conceited, arrogant , haughty, down-to-earth, modest, polite, independent, dependent, indecisive , hesitant, determined, dominant, strong-willed, self-determined, cool, loving, sensitive, charming , honest, dishonest, self-confident , insecure, open, prejudiced, curious, responsible

2 examples of characterization

In this section you will find two examples of characterization. We have characterized well-known characters to whom assignments are often given in school. First you will find a characterization of Anne Frank with the help of her diary and finally Dr. Faust from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s “Faust I”. They serve as inspiration and help you to write a successful characterization yourself.

Anne Frank
Anne Frank

Characterization of Anne Frank from the “Diary of Anne Frank”

The “Diary of Anne Frank” was kept by Anne Frank from June 12, 1942 to August 1, 1944 during the persecution of the Jews in World War II and published from 1947 in various revised and abridged versions. The Jewish girl, who was thirteen at the beginning, tells of her thoughts and life with her family in a secret building where they have to hide.

Anne is tall with light, freckled skin, and dark hair and eyes. She wears her hair shoulder length and mostly open. She has a pointed chin with a dimple and small dimples in her cheeks. She usually wears a simple knee-length skirt and a blouse. She comes from a wealthy family, is well brought up, always polite and cheerful. She has a good relationship with her father, she gets along less well with her mother, but she respects her. To her and her sister she is more like friends.

After receiving her diary “Kitty” for her thirteenth birthday, she first reports on her everyday life; about the family, school and boys (see pp. 24, 26, 28). When the family has to hide in the Secret Annex and they can no longer get out, they hold onto their thoughts and feelings there. The Franks only live with the bare essentials in a confined space and are only allowed to run water at certain times. Nevertheless, Anne likes it in the apartment.

Her diary shows that she has a versatile vocabulary and a lot of imagination  . In addition, she writes very clearly and in detail. She is lively and intelligent, but her character is sometimes quite ambivalent. Sometimes she is reserved and very friendly, but she can also be cheeky and mean. She is also stubborn and jealous of her sister (see p. 41). Despite her zest for life, she is sometimes melancholy; feels misunderstood and alone. She also deals with her situation of not being allowed out of the house and not being able to have any contact with the outside world, which makes her sad. She confides in her diary because she has the feeling that she cannot talk to anyone else.

Overall, you can see a character development from an insecure girl to a self-confident young woman. Anne Frank never loses her courage and gives herself and her family hope that one day they will no longer have to hide. Despite family problems and a tragic fate, everyone sticks together. On August 4, 1944, the house was stormed and Anne and her sister were taken to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. After hard physical work, they both die of typhus in February / March. Anne’s father, Otto Frank, is the only survivor of the family. Anne is still an idol and icon today who keeps the memory of a terrible time that should never repeat itself.

Characterization of Dr. Heinrich Faust from Goethe’s “Faust I”

Faust I
Faust I

In the drama “Faust. The first part of tragedy ”by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, published in 1808 in the Weimarer Klassik , is about Doctor Heinrich Faust, who devotes himself to the devil in order to satisfy his thirst for knowledge.

Faust is a fifty-year-old universal scholar who carries out scientific research in medicine, law, philosophy and theology (cf. v. 354ff.). However, science does not give him any knowledge of what the meaning of life is.

In the drama he embodies less an individual than a type who is supposed to point out the aims and errors of man. This is already visible in the prologue, in which God and the devil Mephisto make a bet that Faust makes the subject of the experiment. God believes in the good and the virtue in man and Mephisto affirms their instinctuality.

Faust has a fixed daily routine in which he spends most of the time in his study. So he does not come into much contact with his environment and feels that the narrow room is a “dungeon” (v. 398). His character is mainly characterized by his urge to know, to know “what holds the world together in its innermost being” (v. 382f.).

He is a rational, very self-centered person who is not very patient due to his strong desire for knowledge. This wish even drives him so far that he considers taking his own life and thus arriving at “new spheres of pure activity” (v. 704). Social interaction is less of his strengths, and neither is dealing with women. So far he has not dealt with his instinctuality and is constantly in conflict with it.

After entering into a pact with Mephisto, after numerous temptations, he has to realize that he has to deal with both sides of the human being, both instinctuality and reason, in order to gain satisfaction and to recognize a meaning in life. Science that has just been learned is not sufficient for this.



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