Identifying character contrasts
You should be looking for contrasts or contradictions - not just between characters, but within each character. In real life no one is simply good or bad - all effective characters have more than one side to their personality.
What makes novels, plays and poems interesting is change, which is true for characters too. So you will be looking at how the relationships between characters change over the course of a text. Think about what brings certain characters together and what drives them apart.
You will also need to look at changes within a particular character. These changes will often be the result of a conflict within the character that you'll notice early on in a story.
Typical contrasts between characters
- Characters who think versus characters who feel.
- Characters who talk versus characters who act.
- Sociable characters versus solitary characters.
- Predators who prey on people versus prey people who become victims.
- Characters who lead versus those who care for others.
- Characters who want one thing versus those who want another.
Typical contrasts within a character
- A person who thinks or talks too much then finally learns to act.
- A person who acts impulsively then finally learns to think.
- A sociable character who finds time to explore and understand themselves as an individual.
- A loner who comes to learn the value of friendship.
- A victim who finally manages to stand up to a bully.
- A strong leader who cares about the consequences of their actions or who listens to the voice of others.
- A character who sacrifices something important to pursue a goal of their own.
Writing techniques that create characters
Novels, plays and poems don't simply tell you what a character is like, they show you by:
- describing what characters do
- reporting what characters say
- showing you what characters look like, what they are wearing, or the objects they are surrounded by
- using imagery and metaphor to express aspects of their identity
Tip: when you are writing about characterisation, don't just describe what characters are like. Always give evidence, and always give a range of language techniques the writer uses.