Ever watch an episode of CSI (or maybe binge-watched an entire season … or two)?
If you have (or have watched just about any other TV crime drama), then you’ve seen a group of detectives investigating a crime.
You’ve seen them trying to figure out if they’ve identified the correct perpetrator. They look at the suspect’s age, gender, race, background, employment, and social interactions.
This type of analysis is a lot like a character analysis for an essay. Detectives need to know details about their suspects in order to complete effective investigations. Similarly, you need to know the details about a character in order to complete an effective analysis.
So let’s get to our investigation, and learn how to identify our suspect … or in literary terms, write a character analysis that works.
How to Write a Character Analysis That Works
A character analysis can take two forms:
- A character analysis as part of a literary analysis paper.
- An entire essay that focuses on the analysis of a single character.
Analyzing a character as part of a literature analysis means, of course, that you won’t be able to include as many details about the character. Writing an analysis as an entire paper, however, means you need a lot more evidence to fully analyze the character.
Whether you’re writing a character analysis as part of a literary analysis or a full character analysis essay, follow these tips to write a smart analysis.
Start with the Basics
Once you’ve identified a character, sketch out basic observations about that character.
Here are a few suggestions to get you started:
- Marital status
- Physical description: How would you describe the character’s clothing, hair, or tattoos? Does the character wear glasses? Is the character neat, slovenly, thin, or overweight?
- Language/speech patterns: What type of word choices does the character use? What type of tone does the character use?
As you list these attributes, consider them carefully. Take notes as to how these seemingly small traits may influence the character.
The point is to analyze. Don’t take anything at face value.
Here’s what I mean:
- A character’s name or nickname may have another meaning. Think Don Quixote. It’s no coincidence that the word quixotic means exceedingly idealistic or unrealistic and sounds a lot like Quixote.
- A character’s age will influence how he or she acts, speaks, dresses, and interacts with others.
- A character’s weight, hairstyle, and clothing choices can say a lot about a character’s personality. Think Clark Kent, Superman’s secret identity. He wears glasses and dresses conservatively to match his quiet demeanor.
- A character’s word choices might reveal his/her level of education, his/her thoughts about others, or his/her sense of humor.
With the basics in place, move on to a more complex analysis.
Who Is This Character?
If you’re a CSI detective, a good way to get to know your suspect is to conduct interviews. If you’re writing a character analysis, you’ll need to ask some good interview questions.
Here’s some questions to get you started:
- What is the character’s background? How do things like the character’s childhood, previous relationships, education, and work history affect the character’s life today?
- How would other characters describe this character? Think of personality characteristics, such as shy, angry, mean, sympathetic, arrogant, funny, generous, manipulative, etc.
- How does this character feel about himself/herself, or how might this character describe himself/herself? Again, think personality traits. Keep in mind that the character’s views of himself/herself might vary greatly from the opinions of others.
- How does this character interact with others? Is the character the life of the party? Is he or she a loner? Does the character have any notable friends or enemies?
- How does the character react to situations? Does a minor irritation, such as waiting too long in traffic, throw your character into a rage? Does your character remain calm and stoic, even in the face of great tragedy?
Try one of these worksheets to help keep your notes organized:
Write Your Report (or Essay)
After interviews, detectives need to write their reports to document the evidence. (This is the longer, more tedious part of the process they don’t show on TV.)
You’ll need to write your report too. The difference? Your writing will need to be in essay format.
Here’s a few example character analysis essays to inspire you:
- Iago in Othello by William Shakespeare
- Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
- Liesel Meminger in Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief
So how do you take all of the information about a character and turn it into a killer essay?
Follow these three steps.
Step #1: Find a focus
You’ve taken lots of notes about your character and know a heck of a lot about him or her, but so what? What’s the point you want to make about this character? For that matter, what’s the point of your paper?
The key to writing a character analysis that works is identifying a focus and analyzing a specific aspect of a character.
Let’s say you’re analyzing Batman.
As you examine his character, you realize that citizens of Gotham, Robin, Commissioner Gordon, and even the butler, Alfred, all say the same thing—Batman’s mission is not only fighting crime, but also making sure that justice is served.
It’s this sense of justice that fuels Batman. It’s his background, the fact that his parents were murdered when he was a child, that has led him to a life of crime-fighting and an overpowering sense of revenge and justice.
This type of analysis creates a specific focus for your paper. You’re not just writing a random list of things that describe Batman. You’re using a central focus to not only explain who the character is, but also analyze him and his motivations.
Once you’ve figured out the general focus, move on to develop a thesis statement to identify the path for your paper.
Step #2: Body of evidence
Like any paper, in a character analysis, you need to be able to support what you write. This means you’ll need to find evidence from the piece of literature you’re analyzing.
The body of your character analysis paper will incorporate the information you’ve gathered from the notes you’ve taken about your character.
Use these notes to help describe the character, explain who the character is, and what role the character plays in the literature.
Of course, you’ll also provide plenty of examples to help support your thesis statement.
If you’re writing about Batman, you’ll include the information from your notes but also evidence to support your thesis about Batman’s sense of justice.
These examples might include specific instances of Batman seeking revenge or justice on any one of the villains in the Batman series. The Joker, Riddler, or Penguin quickly come to mind.
Step #3: The conclusion
In the land of CSI, we’ve just come back from the final commercial break. We’re about to wrap things up by issuing the arrest warrant.
It’s time to wrap things up with your character analysis too. Now you’re ready to write a conclusion that sums up the main ideas of your paper. You might want to end with a quote or statistic, or leave readers with an important question.
Want to learn more about conclusions? Read How to Write a Killer Essay Conclusion.
The Final Sentence
A successful investigation ends with a criminal behind bars and sentenced accordingly.
A successful character analysis, though, doesn’t end with the final sentence of your paper. There’s always more work to be done.
Set your paper aside for a day or two. Then return to it to revise. Don’t forget to check for the basics, such as formatting and correct APA or MLA citations, depending on what your assignment calls for.
After your revisions are complete, send your essay to our investigative team of editors for a little revision expertise!