HOW TO WRITE A CHARACTER ANALYSIS ESSAY: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW FOR YOUR NEXT LITERARY ASSIGNMENT
Writing a character analysis essay can seem like an easy task at first, but once you realize how much time and effort has to go into the process, it’s a little off-putting.
To properly analyze a character, you have to be able to dig deeper into the text. It’s more than just describing someone’s physical appearance or talking about the things they’ve done in the story; you have to dive into the character’s motivations, their context to the story, and significance of their character.
If that’s starting to sound like a lot to take in, you shouldn’t be worried! In this guide, we’re going to show you how to write a character analysis essay in easy-to-follow steps that will help you get ahead in your course.
WHAT IS A CHARACTER ANALYSIS ESSAY?
Like any assignment you write, you’ll need to know what it is you’re doing before you actually start writing your paper. So, let’s start with the basics: what exactly is a character analysis essay, and why are you writing one?
As we mentioned before, in this type of essay, you’re going to analyze a specific character from a novel, text, movie, TV show, or other type of story. In the paper, you’ll discuss various details and information about that character that make them who they are, and establish their position in the story.
Now, let’s get to the question of why you’re writing this essay. Often, a character analysis is a great way to understand and analyze the broader context of a story, as well as the way a story is written. Characters often take on symbolic meanings or are used to represent literary devices that tell a narrative. Sometimes a character is there to cause conflict (such as an antagonist), while other characters are there to progress the story (such as the protagonist).
Essentially, your professor is looking to see how you’ve read, understood, and interpreted a story, and a character within a story, to see the overall meaning of the text.
HOW TO START YOUR CHARACTER ANALYSIS ESSAY
The first thing you need to do is choose the character you’re going to analyze for your paper. This decision will be easy if your professor assigns you the character to use, but if you have the ability to pick one yourself, you’ll need to choose wisely.
Choosing a character to use for a character analysis essay is usually a strategic decision. If your professor hasn’t assigned you a specific character to use, you’ll want to pick someone you know you can write a detailed and thoughtful essay about.
Generally, you want to avoid minor characters that don’t add much to the story because you won’t typically find a lot of information about them – certainly not enough for an entire essay. These characters don’t show a lot of development over time, which means they don’t have a lot of value to add. Not to mention, it’ll be hard to find external sources if your assignment instructions require those.
This doesn’t mean you have to pick the protagonist or main character, but it should be someone at least a little significant. In fact, if you choose the protagonist, the chances are that tons of your other classmates will do the same thing, and your professor doesn’t want to read 20 essays about one character. By the time they get to yours, the marking will get tougher.
In the next section, we’ll go over a list of the different types of characters usually found in a story to help you determine the best option for your assignment.
TYPES OF CHARACTERS IN A STORY
Firstly, to understand how to write a character analysis essay, you should understand the different types of characters that appear within a story, as well as how to identify them. The type of character you choose to analyze will impact your ability to create a well-rounded, in-depth discussion. You have to be able to identify the significance of a character, and choosing the wrong one can spell disaster for your project (and your grade, inevitably).
In the next few sections, we’ll dive into each of these types of characters in more detail, but here is the core list:
● The protagonist
● The antagonist
● Major characters
● Minor characters
● Dynamic characters
● Static characters
The protagonist is the main character the story is about. Every single story ever told has at least one main protagonist – without one, your entire plot won’t have a leg to stand on.
Here are some examples of well-known protagonists in books, movies, and TV shows:
● Harry Potter in the Harry Potter series
● Katniss Everdeen in the Hunger Games series
● Ariel in Disney’s The Little Mermaid
● Romeo in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet
● Frodo Baggins in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit series
● Charlie in Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
● Lizzie McGuire in Disney’s Lizzie McGuire
● Alice in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland
● Wilbur in E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web
● Macbeth in Shakespeare’s Macbeth
Often, the protagonist is the hero of the story who goes through a journey or learns a valuable lesson. However, you could also encounter an as a protagonist. An anti-hero is a main character that is morally ambivalent or doesn’t always do the right thing, or they do the right thing for the wrong reasons. They might do bad things, but the audience is still rooting for them (most of the time). Some examples of anti-heroes include Walter White from Breaking Bad, Tyrion Lannister from Game of Thrones, and Dexter in Dexter.
Another thing you should also remember here is that, while the protagonist often tells the story from their first-person perspective, the narrator of a story is not always the protagonist. Sometimes the narrator is a major or minor character looking in and telling the story, like Nick in The Great Gatsby.
Usually the villain or “enemy,” the antagonist is the character in the opposite position to the protagonist. While it’s a common trope, the antagonist doesn’t always have to be the villain. It could just be someone who gets in the protagonist’s way or presents an obstacle for them, even if it’s well meaning.
Here are some examples of well-known antagonists in books, movies, and TV shows:
● Jafar in Disney’s Aladdin
● Lex Luthor in Superman
● Count Olaf in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events
● Iago in Shakespeare’s Othello
● Regina George in Mean Girls
● Mr. Darcy in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice
● Macduff in Shakespeare’s Macbeth
● Ursula in Disney’s The Little Mermaid
● The Wicked Witch of the West in L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
● Long John Silver in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island
A major character is usually someone who is important to the story, but isn’t the protagonist. It could be a best friend, a sidekick, a parent or guardian, or even a close confidant or teacher. A love interest is also a type of major character, especially if that love interest goes along for the journey or causes some type of conflict for the protagonist.
Here are some examples of major characters:
● Professor Dumbledore in the Harry Potter series
● Mercutio in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet
● Miss Honey in Roald Dahl’s Matilda
● Lois Lane in Superman
● Daisy Buchanan in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby
● Han Solo in the Star Wars saga
● Laurie Laurence in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women
● Jane Bennet in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice
● Baloo in Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book
● Marie in Disney’s The Aristocats
Minor characters are usually side characters that don’t really add a whole lot to the actual plot of the story. They might be people who pop in every now and then, or someone who has to be included for the progression of the plot. For example, this could be someone’s family member or a bus driver that takes the protagonist to school each day.
Here are some examples of minor characters:
● Cinna in the Hunger Games series
● Eleanora Poe in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events
● Aunt March in in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women
● Fleur Delacour in the Harry Potter series
● Rickon Stark in the Game of Thrones series
● Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in Shakespeare’s Hamlet
● Jock and Trusty in Disney’s Lady and the Tramp
● Wheezy in Disney’s Toy Story 2
● Maria Hill in the Marvel Cinematic Universe
● Mace Windu in the Star Wars saga