By: Jeff Elkins
It’s Atticus Finch giving advice to Scout that shows us he is a man of empathy and compassion.
It’s Frank Underwood banging his class ring on the table that reminds us he is in command. It’s Holden Caulfield using phrases like “vomity” and “grow up” that helps us remember that he is an adolescent.
Using indirect characterization can make our heroes and villains leap from the page and come to life in our readers’ minds.
What Is Indirect Characterization?
Direct characterization is when the author tells the reader about a character.
Jack was a rambunctious boy.
Jill was a clumsy girl.
While it is something we have to do on occasion, when done too often, it can make a story flat and dull.
Indirect characterization is far more fun. This is when the author tells a reader about a character through the character’s repeated words, reoccurring actions, or physical descriptions.
As he did every day, Jack ran wildly down the hill with reckless abandon.
Jill stumbled on her untied shoelaces for the fourth time that day.
Showing our readers who our characters are through indirect characterization allows our readers to draw their own conclusions about our characters, intensifying our readers’ engagement with our stories.
A Wonderful Example: Harry Potter’s Scar
Few indirect characterizations are more effective than Harry Potter’s scar. J.K. Rowling accomplished an incredible amount with this small mark on her main character’s forehead.
Here are three noteworthy things Harry’s scar does:
1. It Reminds the Reader of Harry’s Past
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