Characterization or characterisation is the representation of persons (or other beings or creatures) in narrative and dramatic works of art. This representation may include direct methods like the attribution of qualities in description or commentary, and indirect (or "dramatic") methods inviting readers to infer qualities from characters' actions, dialogue, or appearance. Such a personage is called a character. Character is a literary element.
The term characterization was introduced in the 19th century. Aristotle promoted the primacy of plot over characters, that is, a plot-driven narrative, arguing in his Poetics that tragedy "is a representation, not of men, but of action and life." This view was reversed in the 19th century, when the primacy of the character, that is, a character-driven narrative, was affirmed first with the realist novel, and increasingly later with the influential development of psychology.
Direct vs. indirect
There are two ways an author can convey information about a character:
- Direct or explicit characterization
- The author literally tells the audience what a character is like. This may be done via the narrator, another character or by the character themselves.
- Indirect or implicit characterization
- The audience must infer for themselves what the character is like through the character's thoughts, actions, speech (choice of words, manner of speaking), physical appearance, mannerisms and interaction with other characters, including other characters' reactions to that particular person.
Characters in theater, television, and film differ from those in novels in that an actor may interpret the writer's description and dialogue in their own unique way to add new layers and depth to a character. This can be seen when critics compare, for example, the 'Lady Macbeths' or 'Heathcliffs' of different actors. Another major difference in drama is that it is not possible to 'go inside the character's head' in the way possible in a novel, meaning this method of character exposition is unavailable. Still another is that in drama, a character usually can be seen and heard and need not be described.
The psychologist Carl Jung identified twelve primary 'original patterns' of the human psyche. He believed that these reside in the collective subconscious of people across cultural and political boundaries. These twelve archetypes are often cited in fictional characters. 'Flat' characters may be considered so because they stick to a single archetype without deviating, whereas 'complex' or 'realistic' characters will combine several archetypes, with some being more dominant than others – as people are in real life. Jung's twelve archetypes are: the Innocent, the Orphan, the Hero, the Caregiver, the Explorer, the Rebel, the Lover, the Creator, the Jester, the Sage, the Magician, and the Ruler.
A character's voice is his or her manner of speech. Different characters use different vocabularies and rhythms of speech. For example, some characters are talkative, others taciturn. The way a character speaks can be a powerful way of revealing the character’s personality. In theory, a reader should be able to identify which character is speaking simply from the way he or she talks. When a character voice has been created that is rich and distinctive, the writer can get away with omitting many speech attributions (tag lines).
The manner of a character’s speech is to literature what an actor’s appearance and costume are to cinema. In fiction, what a character says, as well as how he or she says it, makes a strong impression on the reader. Each character should have his or her distinctive voice. To differentiate characters in fiction, the writer must show them doing and saying things, but a character must be defined by more than one single topic of conversation or by the character’s accent. The character will have other interests or personality quirks as well. Although individual temperament is the largest determinant of what a character says, it is not the only one. The writer can make the characters’ dialogue more realistic and interesting by considering several factors affecting how people speak: ethnicity, family background, region, gender, education, and circumstances. Words characterize by their diction, cadence, complexity, and attitude. Mannerisms and catch-phrases can help too. Considering the degree of formality in spoken language is also useful. Characters who spend a lot of their lives in a more formal setting often use a more formal language all the time, while others never do.  Tone of voice, volume, rate of delivery, vocabulary, inflection, emphasis, pitch, topics of conversation, idioms, colloquialisms, and figures of speech: all of these are expressions of who the character is on the inside. A character’s manner of speech must grow from the inside out. The speaking is how his or her essential personality leaks out for the world to see; it is not the sum total of his or her personality.
- Baldick (2004, p. 37)
- Literature (2015, p. 353)
- Harrison (1998, pp. 51-2)
- Golden, Carl. "The 12 Common Archetypes". SoulCraft. Retrieved June 29, 2016.
- Gerke (2010, p. 70)
- Hamand (2009, pp. 73–74)
- Gerke (2010, p. 114)
- Gerke (2010, p. 70)
- Kress (2005, p. 104)
- Lamb (2008, pp. 184–185)
- Gerke (2010, p. 68)
- Kress (2005, pp. 106–108)
- Kress (2005, p. 179)
- Hamand (2009, pp. 73–74)
- Gerke (2010, pp. 70–71)
- Gerke (2010, p. 70)
- Aston, Elaine, and George Savona (1991), Theatre as Sign-System: A Semiotics of Text and Performance. London and New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-04932-6.
- Baldick, Chris (2004), The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms, Oxford: Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-860883-7
- Gerke, Jeff (2010), Plot versus Character: A Balanced Approach to Writing Great Fiction, Cincinnati: Writer's Digest Books, ISBN 978-1-58297-992-2
- "Literature". World Book Encyclopedia. Chicago: World Book. 2015. ISBN 978-0-7166-0115-9.
- Hamand, Maggie (2009), Creative Writing for Dummies (uk ed.), Chicester: Wiley, ISBN 978-0-470-74291-4
- Harrison, Martin (1998), The Language of Theatre. London: Routledge. ISBN 0-87830-087-2.
- Kress, Nancy (2005), Write Great Fiction: Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint, Cincinnati: Writer's Digest Books, ISBN 1-58297-316-4
- Lamb, Nancy (2008), The Art and Craft of Storytelling: A Comprehensive Guide to Classic Writing Techniques, Cincinnati: Writer's Digest Books, ISBN 978-1-58297-559-7
- Outline on Literary Elements at the Wayback Machine (archived November 11, 2007) by Dr. Marilyn H. Stauffer of the University of South Florida
- Lecture about Fiction by Professor Waters of the Western Kentucky University, especially the accompanying PowerPoint presentation
- Character and characterisation in The UVic Writer's Guide (from the University of Victoria)
- Drama Theory
- 15 Days to Stronger Characters