How to Write a Character Analysis Essay

June 24, 2021

A character analysis essay is a standard for literature classes. These essays are designed to give you a better understanding of the characters and the novel. This will give you a deeper appreciation of the book, and the character’s place within it.

Once you’ve been handed a character analysis essay task, it can be easy to start getting concerned. The good news is that there is a series of steps that you need to follow. Read on to learn the procedure you need to follow to produce an excellent essay.

Understand What a Character Analysis Essay Is

The first thing that we need to do is define the task. We need to know what a character analysis essay is. As the name suggests, you will need to take an in-depth look at a character. This is your chance to break down their actions. It should explain a few things to the reader;

  1. Tell them who the character is as a person.
  2. Describe how they interact with other characters in the book
  3. Evaluate what role the character played in the story

While these are the core parts of the essay, you will often have a few other elements that you need to fulfill. For example, your school might provide the marking criteria. Keep this in mind when you are writing. It tells you what the teacher will be looking for.

Decide What Character You Want to Focus On

Once you are clear on what you are required to do, it’s time to start preparing for the task. Sometimes, you will be assigned a character to write about. If not, you will need to select one. This is a good chance to decide which one you are going to focus on.

Types of Characters

There are a few types of characters that you can commonly find in novels. These are;

  • A confidante. This is someone that the protagonist can talk to. It can give the audience a chance to understand what the lead character is thinking.
  • Dynamic character. This is a person who will change throughout the story, often as a result of something that happens to them. For example, a villain who learns the evils of their ways.
  • Static characters- These stay the same throughout the novel. They don’t change their personality or learn any lessons.
  • Foil-This is the opposite for a character. Often, this helps expose the flaws in the characters.
  • Protagonist- This is the main character of the novel.
  • Antagonist- These people will oppose the main character, trying to stop them from achieving their goals. They don’t always need to be villains.

What Characters Work Best in Essays

Every character plays an important role in the book. But they won’t all be a good choice for your essay. For some incidental characters, they just aren’t in the book long enough to have a meaningful impact on the story.

Instead, you want to look for people who play an active role. Generally, you’ll want to focus on a dynamic character. These tend to be more well-rounded, with a lot of pivotal moments. Because of this, you will have more to talk about.

Re-Read the Novel to Better Understand the Character

Once you know what character you want to focus on, it’s time to re-read the book. At first, you might be tempted to skip this step. But this could be a mistake. On the first reading, you want to learn the story.

The second reading will allow you to break it down in more detail. You want to look at the character and their actions. Take note of the nuanced way that they are described. Try to identify what emotion the author is trying to evoke. For example, is someone described as dainty or diminutive? Both imply a small stature, but they will conjure a different image of the person.

While you are reading the book, keep a pen and pad close by. Take the opportunity to write down any good examples of character development. This will help you when you are writing the essay later, as you will have your references lined up. Write down as many good references as possible, you can always trim them back later. There are a few things to look for;

  • Important moments in the character’s past. This will influence the way they behave.
  • Moments when their behavior has a pivotal impact on the plot
  • Any dialogue that gives a vital insight into their character. For example, in the play Romeo and Juliet, it would the monologue Romeo gives when he first sees Juliet. It shows that he has fallen instantly in love with her.

You should also try to break down the story a little more. It can help to chart out some of the most important moments. This is more important in a complex tale. By doing this, you will have a better idea of how your character impacts the novel.

Finally, you should use this time to start formulating your opinions about the character. These will form the basis of what you are planning on writing in your essay. You don’t need to write long paragraphs, just a few dot points every few chapters can help you get clarity on the points you want to make.

Decide on the Controlling Idea of Your Essay

The next thing that you need to consider is the controlling idea of your essay. This is the main point. It is what are you are trying to prove.

For example, if you were studying Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, you might want to talk about the main character, Dr. Jekyll. In this case, you would likely focus on how the book highlights the duality of humanity. He encapsulates the ability to have brilliant ideas and compassion for others. But, after the transformation, he becomes locked in a battle with the darker parts of his personality.

Start Writing Your Essay

Once you have done the research and know what idea you want to express, it’s time to move on to crafting the essay. This can be broken down into a few sections. These are;

  • Thesis
  • Introduction
  • Body paragraphs
  • Conclusion

Each of these sections plays a crucial role in the essay. Let’s take a closer look at each component and how they should fit together.

Thesis

This is the first thing that you should write. It’s the controlling idea of your essay, the point you are trying to prove. You will need to boil this down to a simple statement. Ideally, it should be between one to three sentences long.

There are some things that you keep in mind when writing your thesis statement. Ideally, it will be;

  • You just want to introduce the main idea. You’ll have the rest of the evidence to expand on it and provide evidence to support it.
  • Avoid making general statements.
  • You want to be able to prove your point through the essay. You can’t do this if the statement is so obvious that everyone agrees with it. Returning to our example, it’s not enough to just say that Dr. Jekyl is good and Mr. Hyde is bad. Tell us what that says about the character or what the author wanted to portray.

Once you have your thesis, you need to make sure that everything in the essay backs it up. We’ll discuss how to do this when later, as you are writing the body paragraphs.

Introduction

This is the first paragraph or two of your essay. At this stage, you don’t want to start arguing your point. Instead, you want to focus on hooking the reader in. Make people interested to read your essay. You want to grab their attention within the first few sentences.

The second purpose of an introduction is to give some background to the topic. If you have an obscure book, this might mean an overview of the plot. You will also need to describe your character’s role in the plot. As you’re doing this, you want to keep it brief. The reader won’t need to know every aspect of the story. They just need enough to understand what you are going to be talking about.

Body Paragraphs

The next thing you need to do is write the body paragraphs. This will be the bulk of the essay. This is where you will be arguing your point. To do this, you first need to split up the essay into sub-arguments. Each of these will support an element of the thesis. Try to keep to one idea per paragraph. The word count of the essay will tell you how many paragraphs you will need to have.

Once you know what ideas you want to prove, it’s time to start gathering your evidence. Go back through your notes and find which ones will back up your points best. Try to stick to one to two pieces of evidence per argument.

Finally, you’re ready to start writing the body paragraphs. There is a specific structure that you will need to follow to make sure that it flows properly. This is known as the PEEL method. This stands for;

  1. This is where you state what you are trying to prove.
  2. Give more detail on this argument, linking it to the hypothesis.
  3. Provide one or two examples from the book to back up your point. You will also need to explain this evidence and how it supports your argument.
  4. This is a sentence that leads into the next paragraph.

Formatting a Character Analysis Essay

You can put your body paragraphs into whatever order you want. But it’s important to make sure that you are highlighting how well you know the character. Because of this, it’s best to work your way from physical descriptions to physiological drivers. As a result, most people tend to format their essays like this;

  1. Personality and physical description. This should touch on the way that the character is introduced to the reader. You can also use examples that are based on their outward actions. You might also want to briefly describe the history of the character. This is usually done with characters that have had multiple iterations. Try to keep this part brief, giving you more time to focus on your version.
  2. Describe how they fit into the overall narrative. This should include the type of character they are. For example, are the protagonist or the foil? Are they dynamic or static?
  3. Tell the audience how the character changed during the story. If they are static, you might want to discuss how they led someone else to have an important revelation. Alternatively, you can talk about what this highlights about their personality. For example, Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird is static. This demonstrates his unwavering belief in his principles.

Tips for Writing Body Paragraphs

While these are the basics of writing a body paragraph, there are a few other tips that you should keep in mind.  First, you want to make sure that everything relates strongly to the main thesis. Every sentence should be backing up that idea. If it doesn’t, you’ll either need to remove or rephrase it. This is why it’s so important to pick your arguments properly.

Secondly, body paragraphs will often vary in strength. It’s common to find one that is slightly weaker than the rest. In this case, try to put it in the middle of the essay. The human brain is primed to remember things at the beginning and the end. But the stuff in the middle is harder to recall.

As you’re writing the body paragraph, keep the marker’s requirements in mind. During this time, you should be referring back to the marking criteria frequently. It tells you what elements you must work into your essay. The bulk of the marks will be found in the body.

Keep the audience in mind. Think about how much they would know about the topic. This tells you how much depth you need to go into. For example, if you assume that they are familiar with the book, you don’t need to give a lot of background. But if they haven’t read it, you’ll need to explain the plot in more detail when giving examples. If you are unsure about this, you can ask your teacher.

Remember that this is a chance to show much you know about this character. You want the reader to know that you have done the research. The best way to show this is through the examples you provide and the way you analyze them. By the end of the essay, the following things should be clear;

  • What type of character they are. For example, are they dynamic or static?
  • What motivates them
  • What role they have in the novel
  • Why the author included them. What point was the author trying to prove?
  • The physical appearance and background of the character
  • What obstacles they needed to overcome

Finally, one of the biggest mistakes that people make is trying to make their essay perfect in the first draft. Instead, it’s best to write something down, even if it’s imperfect. Once you know what you want to say, you’ll be able to refine it in the edit.

Conclusion

At the end of your essay, you will need to include a conclusion paragraph. This is your chance to bring everything together. Restate the thesis. Then, describe how each body paragraph backed it up. The conclusion is not the place to introduce any new arguments, just synthesize the ones you have already provided.

This is also a chance for you to relate this to the real world. What was the author trying to say by including that character in the book? For example, you might want to describe how a character would relate to a real-world scenario.

Do a Final Edit and Submit Your Essay

By now you should have a rough draft. However, the prospect of editing it can often seem daunting. But there are a few tips that you can use to make this a lot smoother.

First, if you have time, set it aside for a few days. Don’t look at it and try to avoid thinking about it. When you re-read it, you’ll find it a lot easier to spot mistakes. Another way of getting a fresh perspective is by asking a friend to read it for you. If possible, get someone who doesn’t know anything about the topic. This lets you make sure that everything has been explained in enough detail.

Once you know some of the flaws of the essay you can start the editing process. When you’re doing this, follow these steps.

  1. Look at your points and examples. Check that they support the thesis.
  2. Evaluate the sentences, checking that they all make sense.
  3. Look at the link sentences. The essay should flow from one point to the other.
  4. Check spelling and grammar. You can use a tool like Grammarly to help you do this.

At this point, the essay should be looking good. Read through it once more, to double-check that you haven’t missed anything. Finally, it’s time to submit it.

Conclusion

By understanding the characters in a novel, you get a better appreciation of the book as a whole.  Because of this, the character analysis essay has become a staple for teachers. Hopefully, by using these tips, you will be prepared when you get one assigned to you.

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