5 Methods of Characterization

There are two types of characterization: direct and indirect. Direct characterization explicitly tells the reader what a character's qualities are. Indirect characterization uses five different methods that combine different elements to reveal a character's personality. To remember these five elements, simply remember the acronym STEAL, which stands for speech, thoughts, effect on others, actions and looks.


Characters’ personalities can be greatly defined by the words they say and how they say them. The words they use can point to intelligence or a lack thereof, which also reveals their educational background. The speed in which characters speak can describe if they are generally nervous or laid back. Specific accents can set up where a character grew up. If the speech is overly hesitant, the character may be shy or unsure about something. Think about the people you know in real life, and how the way they communicate with you sets up their personalities. It’s the same for fictional characters.


Looking into the minds of characters in written stories is a privilege often given to readers. When we know the inner thoughts and feelings of a character, we are seeing a glimpse of their true personality and how they really view the world. Seeing these thoughts shows us if the characters are rational or irrational, confident or insecure, happy or sad and many other important personal characteristics. The emotions the character feels points to the way the characters let people and events affect them, which displays the basic inner structure of how the character thinks.

Effect On Others

How do the characters affect other people? And how do these people react to the character? The answers to these two questions shows the characters’ personality qualities as viewed by the people that know them. This information describes how the characters handle themselves socially, and the relationships they are able--or unable--to form with fellow characters. Does the character make other characters feel happy, uneasy, repulsed, excited, anxious, angry or scared? This will tell a reader what explicit aspects of the characters’ personalities are put forth to all the other characters in a story, and helps us to better understand how to view the character.


The actions and behaviors of the characters show what truly drives and motivates the characters. How they physically or verbally interact with other characters in the story shows their overall position as good-natured or mean-spirited, sympathetic or selfish. The behavior that the characters show is just a product of how they feel inside, which is why how the character acts is such a great indicator of personality.


The look and appearance of characters can tell a lot about them. The dress of characters also provides a look into their personalities. For example, if the characters are constantly dressed up in expensive clothing, this could point to great education and money, while the characters dressed in clothes with holes in them could appear less well-off. However, since outward appearances can be deceiving, it’s also important to take expression and body language into consideration.

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