In some narratives the characters experience an epiphany, or a moment at which they have a sudden realization about him/herself, thus learning a moral truth. Often the characters' epiphany is tied closely to the theme, which in turn explains the plot of the narrative.
For instance, James Joyce's The Dubliners is a compilation of stories about the "tragic Irish" as they have been called, the Irish who have been surpressed by both the Catholic Church and the British influences in their lives. In one story, "Eveline," a young girl plans to elope with her sailor boyfriend, but at the last minute as she is about to board a ship to America, she freezes and cannot get on because she cannot abandon her little brother to the abusive father. This "tragic Irish" stands holding the railing as the sailor calls to her, and she has an epiphany--a moment of truth--that she will never, never leave Ireland or her home.
I would also pay attention to the moments where the humanity of the characters is revealed. There is usually a point, or several, when the specific essence of a character is revealed through the exposure of their humanity or lack of it. Sensing these moments, and taking control of them through paying attention to them as a reader can help illuminate much in way of how a character is and allow you a better understanding of them in the text.
In addition to what the characters think, say, do, dress, and ect. You also learn from what other characters think and say about them, but the author might also tell us directly about things we need to learn about the characters. The plot is simply a series of interconnected events that drive the story from the conflict, through rising action to the climax, and then down through the falling action to the resolution.
What's the best way to know the personality of a character? How do you pick out the phrases that explain the plot?
I need it as soon as possible!
Most characters' traits unfold rather quickly as you are reading. They think, act, speak, dress, and interact in consistent ways. In a well-written book, you start to get a feel for the characters right away and end up feeling like you know them.
Now the plot is a little more difficult to pinpoint with exact phrases. I like to know the setting and time period of a book right away and look for those items first. Then, I like to know the ages and circumstances of the main characters. If the book has a slipcover, I always read the book's summary to get an idea of what the book's about. Then I know what to look for as I read. Sometimes the plot's not immediately visible until the whole book has been read.
I hope this helps and good luck!
The best way is just to read the text closely and make notes of how you are responding to a character. You can always put question marks to research further later as he/she develops as you change your mind. ie - is he making you angry, sad, amused,curious,depressed, inspired etc. - and why? What did say/do to make you feel that and on what page is the quote?
The best way to pick out the personality of a character is to remember the way that Chaucer says is vital for characterization:
1) What they say
2) What they do
3) What they wear
4) What they think
5) What others think of them
If you keep these in the back of your mind, you will see things that are obvious, and then you can look for things that are not obvious such as subtext, and see what people really mean what they say.