Step-by-Step Guide for Writing a Character Analysis Essay

Last Updated: 23 September 2022

writing a character analysis essay

When assigned to write a character analysis essay or paper, you are expected to examine the actions, traits, behavior, and personalities of the antagonists and protagonists in a story, poem, song, film, or novel. You have to include a discussion of the characters' experiences, conflicts, roles, traits, and appearances. It is a full essay with introduction, body, and conclusion paragraphs.

Like a typical essay, when writing an essay that entails analyzing a character, you have to have a catchy sentence to grab the readers' attention at the very first paragraph-the introduction. You should also have an excellent thesis statement to announce what it is about.

If you want to know how to ace that character analysis essay or are unsure what to do next, you are in the right place.

Whether it is a character from a Movie or famous books such as Macbeth, A Rose for Emily, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Yellow Wallpaper, Romeo and Juliet, Alice in Wonderland, Huckleberry Finn, The Great Gatsby, Lord of the Flies, or any other story, you came to the right place.

This ultimate guide has everything to point you in the right direction. But before anything else, let’s first focus on the basics.

What is a Character Analysis Essay?

A character analysis essay is a piece of academic assignment where you critically analyze the traits, motivations, behaviors, and encounters of a specific character or characters from a TV show, book, play, novel, short story, poem, film, or in real-life scenarios. It is also known as a character analysis paper, character essay, characterization essay, or essay about characters.

The key focus of a character analysis essay is to narrow down to a specific character and provide their sketch so that someone who has read or has not read the story can get the role the character plays.

When writing this essay, your focus is on examining the actions and personalities (characteristics and traits) of the antagonists and protagonists in a story. It encompasses a description of the roles, traits, experiences, and conflicts of the specific characters, independently or relative to others.

Instead of offering light definitions and descriptions of a character, a character analysis entails synthesizing the driving force and personality of the character in question. You critically look at how these two influence the entire story, poem, song, or play.

A character essay is a common literary writing assignment for college students pursuing English and Literature. The true success of doing a character analysis comes when you view the characters as though they are real people who act, feel, and live as we do.

Therefore, there is no room for baseless interpretations and assumptions. You need to support every idea, concept, or observation with a proper quotation, summary, or paraphrased facts from the text or other credible scholarly sources. Again, since it is not your story, you must avoid writing in the first person, despite your personal preferences and opinions – being objective when writing a characterization essay is paramount.

Purpose of Character Analysis Essay

A character analysis aims to reveal some of the most interesting details about a character that can be applied to real-life situations.

Writing a character analysis essay allows you to see through a character from the lens of the author as it entails narrowing down the character’s traits, encounters, beliefs, and behavior. 

You also get the chance to provide a sketch of the character, which can further help expound on the moral message the author is trying to pass to the audience that cares to interact with their piece of work.

A character analysis allows you to understand, contextualize, and evaluate the story from a broader perspective to determine the purpose of the story. In some stories, characters have symbolic meanings that are authors’ ways of using literary devices to unmask different aspects of society. Some characters cause conflicts (i.e., the antagonists), while others play the role of progressing the story (i.e., the protagonist).

When your instructor or professor assigns you to write a characterization essay, they test whether you paid attention while reading, watching, or listening to a piece of work. It is also a strategy to assess your critical thinking depending on how best you write about the characters and the text's overall meaning.

Different Types of Characters to Consider when Writing

As you probably have learned in your literature or English class, there are several types of characters categorized based on factors such as roles, behavior, and traits in the story. Below, we explore some of these character types

1. Major characters

Major characters are the main characters that run the show or story. In most cases, you will find either one or a maximum of two major characters. A major character can either be a protagonist, otherwise known as the good guy, or an antagonist, who is the villain or bad person in the work of art or literature.

2. Protagonist characters

The protagonists are also known as the heroes, the main characters around whom the story's plot revolves.

3. Antagonist characters

The antagonists oppose the protagonist, also known as the villain. In some cases, antagonists’ characters could be natural power, supernatural phenomena, or majestic beings.

4. Minor characters

The minor characters are those who help bring out the traits and personalities of the main characters. They are static and unchanging characters who maintain their stance, traits, and beliefs.

5. Dynamic/changing characters

Dynamic characters are the opposite of static characters, and they keep changing.

6. Static Characters

The static or unchanging characters are consistent in thought, behavior, allegiance, approach, and traits throughout a story, cinematography, or play. In How to Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch fits the description of a static character, given he maintains his beliefs even in the most challenging situations. If you have read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, you would agree that Jim is a static character, given that his personality remains the same throughout his journey. In Hamlet, Polpnius can be described as a static character because he remains sneaky throughout the story.

7. Foils

A foil character brings out the protagonist's qualities because they are the exact opposite of the protagonist's character. Foils are usually the opposite of the protagonist. For example, Draco Malfoy is a foil character in Harry Porter, and another example is Dr. Watson from the Sherlock Holmes Series.

7 Steps when writing a Character Analysis Essay

Character analysis essays follow the format and structure of a standard academic essay and have an introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion. Before writing a character essay, you need to read the assignment promptly to understand the scope of the essay. It also helps with choosing a character or knowing what to focus on and what to leave out.

Here are some steps to follow if you want to write a successful essay on a character.

1. Read the story or novel

Assuming you have gone through the character analysis essay prompt, you have to read the story, watch the film, play, theater performance, or listen to a narration. Reading with a general mindset enables you to contextualize the piece of work. You will be able to identify the author's thesis and how they use different characters to advance the themes that support the thesis. A general perspective of the story, novel, film, or poem helps you easily identify the characters. As you read, take notes on the different characters in the story, which will help you in the second step.

2. Identify the character of interest

After you have familiarized yourself with the story, song, or film, the next step is to select your specific character of focus.

 In some cases, your instructor will likely assign a character of focus for your character analysis assignment. However, some professors will leave you the freedom to choose a character.

If this is the case, ensure that you consider a character that plays a dynamic role for you in writing a vivid character analysis paper. For example, if you are writing a character analysis essay based on Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, you can choose a character like Jim or Huck, who are both dynamic characters in the story.

To select a good character, refer to the notes you were taking as you initially read through the story or watched the film or play.

3. Re-read and Take notes

Even if you have already read the story or watched the performance, play, or film, you need to do it all over again, only that this time you will be taking notes based on your character.

With the instructions in mind, you can limit your scope, identify points quickly, and cover useful aspects when writing your analysis.

Focus on the description of your character, how the character relates to other characters, the conflicts the character faces, the struggles, wins, and failures of your character, and how the character advances through the story, film, or performance.

Taking notes while watching or reading helps you to identify rich pieces that will build up your paper. You can underline important passages or annotate important quotes.

4. Choose your thesis statement

At this stage, you are fully knowledgeable about your character and their role in your story or film. You should gather your notes and think of the main idea that links them, and the main idea that ties together these aspects is your thesis statement.

The thesis statement can be a sentence or two that tells the reader what your essay or paper is about, and it should promise the reader the purpose, scope, and direction of your paper.

An example of a good thesis statement for a character analysis is Through Miss Maudie Atkinson’s open-mindedness, optimism, and compassion, she helps Jem and Scout better understand Atticus and their community.”

When writing your thesis, consider your character's motivations, actions, behavior, changes, and roles in the storyline. Your thesis can be aligned to a theme that your character advances.

5. Draft your essay outline

With the thesis at hand, you can now create an outline for your character analysis essay or paper. The outline will map out every section of your paper, which can help you determine your essay's flow, organization, and formatting.

Other people prefer writing an essay plan before creating an outline. We have given a template for an essay plan in this article in case it would help to simplify the pre-writing process.

The outline helps you organize your thoughts and maintain an effective flow of ideas as you write the analysis. And when writing it:

You are ready to put rubber on the road with such a solid outline. You can now comfortably write the essay. We recommend taking some break to cool your mind before beginning to write.

6.  Write the essay

The writing stage should be enjoyable if you worked hard on the pre-writing phase. As you settle down to write your character analysis essay, follow your essay outline.

Write the introduction

Have the thesis in mind and begin by writing an attention-grabbing introduction. Strategically place your essay hook, such as a rhetorical question, quote, or fact, and the introduction should enthuse the reader to read your essay beyond the first paragraph.

The introduction should also give a background of your character and their role in the story. And to intrigue your readers, even more, write a thesis statement that describes what they should expect in your character analysis paper.

If allowed, you can give an outline where you signpost the rest of your paper in the introduction so that your readers are not ambushed with ideas. 

Develop the body paragraphs

The body paragraph is where the real action takes place. It is where you answer the prompt, enabling your reader to find a link between your arguments and the thesis. Here, try to connect your character to the themes in the story, film, or performance. When writing the body, focus on these elements:

Finalize with a vivid conclusion

When all is done in the body of your character analysis, ensure that you wrap up your essay using a remarkable concluding paragraph. Here, you should restate your thesis using totally different words. You should then summarize your arguments from the body paragraphs related to the thesis. Summarize the role and personality of the character in the story. Finally, write a concluding statement that makes your analysis memorable or gets your readers thinking. The final statement could be the moral message from your character.

7. Proofread and edit the essay

When writing the first draft, we always insist on writing in raw form without bothering about other things such as grammar, spelling, or syntax. Writing is meant to achieve some flow and explore your creativity.

You need to take a break after writing to ensure that you develop an objective mindset. It could be hours or days, depending on your deadline.

Proofread your essay and edit it for grammar, spelling, and organization. Only submit an error-free paper. You can use editing software or Apps such as Ginger, Pro Writing Aid, or Hemingway editor. Besides, pass your essay through plagiarism checkers such as PlagScan to ensure that you submit a plagiarism-free character analysis essay.

Detailed Structure/Outline for Character Analysis Essay

Like a typical essay, having a character analysis essay outline or map helps you visualize the end and write a paper that comprehensively answers the assignment prompt questions. With a good outline, you have a map that will guide your writing process.

Paragraph #1: Introduction

Introduction – general comments about the character and/or novel lead you to your thesis statement (described above). Be sure you have identified the author and title of the book and the character you will be analyzing. Some questions you could address in your introduction include:

Paragraphs #2 - #4 (Body Paragraphs)

Three Body Paragraphs – the topic sentence for each body paragraph includes one character trait you chose to describe your character. For example, “Atticus Finch is a man of great integrity.” Follow the topic sentence with evidence from the novel: examples from the story that support your topic sentence and at least one direct quotation from the novel in each body paragraph. Next, explain how your examples support your topic sentence and conclude each body paragraph with a summarizing “clincher” sentence to wrap up your ideas.

Paragraph #5

Conclusion – restate your thesis statement and add some final thoughts about your character and/or the novel…leave the reader in awe of your wisdom!

Character Analysis Essay Plan

If you want something that can help you outline the contents of your essay, here is a format you could use. This plan can come in handy when you are writing a last-minute essay or do not have too much time to waste writing a full outline.

Great Starter………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Thesis Statement………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Body Paragraph #1

Adjective #1……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Example……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Quote……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Explanation………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Body Paragraph #2

Adjective #2………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Example……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Quote……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Explanation………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Body Paragraph #3

Adjective #3………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Example……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Quote………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Explanation………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Great Finisher/conclusion…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………............

How to format Quotations in a Character Analysis Essay

A character analysis essay draws from the ideas and quotes from the story, play, or film. It is the best way to relate your character to your story, which helps contextualize your analysis. There are three approaches to formatting and framing quotes in a character analysis essay.

  1. Create an intro to your quotation that helps the reader understand its meaning. This is called a “tag line.”

Example: A change in Jem’s attitude toward the Radleys is shown when Scout reports, “Less than two weeks later we found a whole package of chewing gum, which we enjoyed, the fact that everything on the Radley Place was poison having slipped Jem’s memory” (Lee, 60).

  1. Double quotation marks around the entire quote; single quotation marks to show where the quotations exist already in the text.

Example: Jem’s frustration with the injustices of the world is shown in the courtroom. ‟Doesn’t make it right,” said Jem stolidly. He beat his fist softly on his knee. “You just can’t convict a man on evidence like that – you can’t” (Lee, 220).

  1. Changing a word or two in a quotation to clarify its meaning.

Example: Harper Lee helps her readers understand why this neighbor is so mysterious to the children of the neighborhood when she states that “Mr. Radley kept [Boo] chained to the bed most of the time” (Lee, 16).

Final Words!

Writing a character analysis essay can be easy and tough at the same time. It is tough because you must read, research, and synthesize information on a specific character and relate it to the story. This might sound like too much work but not when you apply the tips we have shared above. It is also easy in that you have to focus on one character for every essay you are writing, which means limited research compared to when writing a book critique where you have to address aspects of the entire book or a movie review where you have to focus on all characters. To succeed, ensure that you read a text or watch a play or film before planning and organizing your ideas. Besides, with so many resources online, you can never miss information that helps you to write the best character essay.

If writing is not your thing, you do not have the time, or you don’t feel like writing a character essay, you can hire our custom writing professionals to help you. They contributed to this guide and understood what it takes to write a perfect essay that meets the highest grades in the rubric.