How do you write a character study essay?


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donohuet's profile pic

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One thing to think about when writing a character study essay is the point of the essay.  This might require you to consider your teacher's emphasis.  Does she want you to focus on theme?  Does she want you to focus on the author's style?  Does she want you to focus on the mechanics of the narrative (plot and conflict, etc.)?  Each focus can lead us to significance.  If you haven't been given that direction, pick which one you are most comfortable, or which one seems the most significant to you. I think looking at theme is the best way for struggling writers to start.  

Think about theme as the observation the writer is making about some big human topic.  Character is one of the most prominent tools the author uses to make that observation.  If, for example, a character is appealing to me and something bad happens to him, I will feel bad.  I can then look more closely at the character to figure out for what he stands.  If he seems to be likable for his charity, and something bad happens to him when he is helping others, the author might be making a cynical observation about the world.  The theme might be that the world is an unjust place.  The key, then, is to figure out how you feel about the character, what that character stands for, and what happens to the character: somewhere in there you will be able to start to put together a theme.

Once you've gotten a basic sense of how the character works as part of the author's comment, you can begin to analyze how he works.  Here you can use the vocabulary of character analysis:

Is he a protagonist?  If so, the author wants you to support him?  Then you can wonder what it is about him that you support.  This may be obvious or subtle.  Look at the character's physical appearance, speech, thoughts, effects on other characters, and actions to better determine his function.  Does he say one thing and do another?  Does he seem fat and sloppy?  Does he seem beautiful and noble?  Does he resemble a snake?   When he speaks to people snap to attention or roll their eyes?  All details are significant, but you need to determine what they signify.

To help figure that significance, look at what happens to the character.  Does he change like a dynamic character, or stay the same like a static character? Consider the nature of the change.  Is it superficial or profound.  Does he develop a new consciousness? a new morality? a new sense of truth or self?  Or do his circumstances merely change?  If he changes his outlook because he was poor and becomes rich, is he really changing?  Sometimes authors use their characters ironically.  Thinking about the nature of change can help you to identify the theme too.  If a despicable character (with whom we sympathize) has his ugly beliefs confirmed at the end of the story, far from confirming those beliefs, the author is typically criticizing them.  You need to determine whether the tone of author is sincere or ironic before concluding the theme.  Sympathizing with the protagonist does not necessarily mean liking him.  I sympathize with gangsters as I watch gangster movies, but I'm rarely under the delusion that they are good people.  

When you get yourself an idea of how the character works to communicate the theme, you can begin planning your essay.  Try to identify the author's comment (theme) by writing it out into a sentence:


The author uses this character to point out ________________________.


This can be a good dummy for a thesis about a character, although as you specify your thinking, the sentence will have to be revised and clarified.

Then try to revisit your experiences with the character.  Since the author communicates the message chronologically through his story, it makes sense for you to organize your essay in the same way.  However, you are not summarizing the story.  Instead, you are following the way the character's portrayal works on you (your emotions, sympathies, beliefs) as you read for a theme.  

There is no perfect model or blueprint for writing an essay.  The best essays are honest reflections of how your thoughts developed.  If you are writing a character study, think about how to best reflect your idea of how the character works.




StephanieRR's profile pic

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The main purpose of a character study or character analysis essay is to shine some insight on that characters significance, purpose, or nature. This means that it should go beyond simply the biographical inforation of the character. That information is, however, a reasonable place to start your analysis. The character's name, age, social status, and/or location may all be briefly described in order to begin painting the picture of who it is you will be studying in your essay. It is also common to include what type of character you are dealing with. Is it a protagonist or an antagonist? Is your character static or dynamic? How do you know? The bulk of your paper, though, should be dedicated to information that goes beyond just these facts that demonstrate your basic understanding of who the character is.

Character studies require a focus on characterization, or the processes an author uses to convey information about characters in the story. There are two basic types of characterization: direct and indirect. Direct characterization is the use of descriptions that directly relate to the character. For example, if somewhere in a story an author writes, "Sally had a generous nature and loved to help all who were in need," that author is using direct characterization to show the reader that Sally is generous. Indirect characterization is when an author shows rather than tells us a trait. Let's say that in this same example story the author did not just write that Sally was generous. Instead, the author writes about how Sally delivered homemade quilts to the homeless shelter, and on her way there she decided to adopt a stray kitten, and after she left the homeless shelter she gave a pair of her own shoes to an orphan she found in an alley. The author never says Sally is generous, but the reader is given the sense that Sally is generous based on Sally's own actions. That is an example of indirect characterization. Your paper should explore both types of characterization for your particular character, but the traits you choose should relate to a particular point you are trying to make about your character. Why is your character important to the story? What part does (s)he have in the conflict, climax, and/or resolution? A character study is not just about who a character is, but what a character's place is within a story. Any characterization you discuss in your essay should help the essay's readers to understand the characters significance.

If you are looking for some more ideas as to what character traits might be significant when writing your essay, you should take a look at the eNotes page on Character Analysis that I have linked below.

These are the general elements to focus on in a character study essay If you need any help with the elements specific to your own essay, I would be happy to look it over for you and help in that respect. Please send me a message if that is the case.


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