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What Is Indirect Characterization in Literature?

Do you want to know What Is Indirect Characterization in Literature? If your answer is yes then this blog provides you all information regarding this.

By conveying a character’s traits to the reader through actions, thoughts, and words, an author uses indirect characterization to avoid outright declaring a character’s traits. An example of direct characterization would be to simply state, “John had a short fuse,” while an example of indirect characterization might read, “John hissed at the man without any prior warning.”

One of the most crucial techniques in creative writing is direct characterization, yet it has its drawbacks. We will discuss the ideas of indirect characterization throughout this book to help you understand it and use it in your own work. But before we do, let’s define exactly what we mean by “indirect characterization” at the outset.

What does “indirect characterization” actually mean?

Indirect characterization is a type of literary method that is used to convey information about a character without really disclosing it. Instead of merely describing a character, the author uses that character’s actions, speech, thoughts, appearance, and how other characters respond to them to illustrate that character’s traits.

It can be challenging to pinpoint the exact definition of indirect characterization, but in general, it refers to instances where the reader learns something about a character without being expressly told. In contrast to indirect characterization, direct characterization explicitly tells the reader things about the character being portrayed, such as their profession, emotions, or motivations.

Why is it important to describe people in general terms?

In addition to being crucial to the art of narrative writing, character development is also a lot of fun! When characters are portrayed accurately, the entertainment value of literature is increased, and we frequently develop attachments to certain stories because we can relate to certain protagonists or antagonists.

Character development is a process that an author goes through repeatedly. When all of these facets of a character are taken into account, you get a multidimensional figure who comes off as plausible. When we state that characterization is the accumulation of numerous different character details at various points in time, we mean something similar.

Indirect characterization provides some advantages for character development that are not possible with direct characterization. Indirect characterization, as opposed to direct characterization, requires a higher level of interaction by the reader with the text; rather than giving the reader the answers for them, indirect characterization encourages them to draw their own conclusions. The novel and its characters are more accessible to the reader when they have to use their own judgment and solve the issue on their own.

On the other hand, direct characterization is desirable in some situations since you may want to be more specific and portray a character’s traits in a more direct way.

The difference between direct and indirect ways to describe someone

Asking if the author states anything open to the reader (direct characterization) or whether they hint that something is the case (indirect characterization) can sum up the distinction between direct and indirect characterization (indirect). To put it another way, telling and showing are the two components of direct and indirect characterization.

Consider the situation when you need to explain why a particular character is charitable and compassionate. If we were to directly describe them, we may use language like this:

As a result of having to make do with a meager income throughout her upbringing, Sonia developed a strong sense of compassion and made it a point to assist those in need whenever she could.

Since it relies on cues and cueing rather than immediately expressing the information, indirect character analysis is more sophisticated than direct analysis.

Sonia quickly reached for her money when she saw the beggar. She didn’t think twice before dropping her last dollar into his cup since she remembered what it was like to be a little child and go without food.

It’s crucial to know how to use both direct and indirect character development techniques when writing, especially when it comes to novels and short stories.

Examples and applications of indirect characterization techniques

The five main modalities of indirect categorization are often referred to by the acronym STEAL, which stands for speech, thoughts, effects, actions, and glances. Let’s examine each one using examples of indirect characterization from The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.


The character typically does this throughout a conversation by saying things that allude to or imply something about them.

I guessed, “I wouldn’t ask too much of her,” and then continued. They used to claim, “Time travel is not possible.”

You are unable to travel back in time. He sobbed in total shock. Yes, you can do it, of course!

Gatsby’s vehement statement about reliving the past indicates that he is somewhat optimistic about the prospect of doing so, and it also clarifies his motivation for pursuing Daisy.


The way a character thinks or feels provides insight into some facet of their personality. Thoughts, in a contrast to words, are solely perceptible by the reader and the relevant character.

He had never once looked away from Daisy, and I believe that he constantly reevaluated the value of everything in his house depending on how it made her most prized pair of eyes respond.

Gatsby’s reliance on Daisy’s estimation of the value of his possessions is evidence of how important she is to him. It’s also crucial to notice that this realization serves to subtly characterize Nick, the narrator, and suggests to the reader that Nick is starting to understand Gatsby’s psyche. It’s crucial to remember both of these things.


A character can be revealed in part by the impact they have on the actions of other characters. The reader examines how other characters react to them and then imitates their behavior.

I was immediately aware of the underlying insincerity of what she had just said when her voice abruptly quit demanding my attention and my belief. It gave me the sensation that I had been played and made me feel uncomfortable as if the entire evening had been a deception to get me to feel like I had contributed.

The reader is given a hint by Nick’s reaction to Daisy’s story, which was that he felt duped, about how they should feel about the character—namely, that she is manipulative.


The actions a character takes reveal a lot about who they are as a person. Since it needs more complexity, this kind of indirect character development is often the most challenging to execute well. However, it is also one of the most effective.

The flowers weren’t necessary because a greenhouse and an endless supply of pots to hold everything came from Gatsby’s house around two o’clock.

The fact that Gatsby overspent on flowers (“a greenhouse,” to use hyperbole) shows how nervous he is about the approaching event at Nick’s house; he wants to make a good impression and will stop at nothing to do this.


There are times when a character’s external actions tell the reader something about that character. You can directly or indirectly characterize someone based on how they look. When descriptions are used to create a character indirectly, they should make a suggestion about the personality of the character. When you just describe a character’s physical characteristics, such as their height or eye color, you are using direct characterization. A good illustration of this is describing a character’s hair color.

Two arrogant eyes that dominated his face gave him the appearance that he was continually leaning forward in an aggressive manner. When his shoulder moved under his thin coat, you could see a massive pack of muscle shifting. He appeared to fill those dazzling boots until he stretched the upper fastening. The immense force of his figure could not be concealed by the sissy swank of his riding attire. It had a poor body, but it could use a lot of leverage.

This description of Tom’s looks emphasizes his “arrogant eyes” and “huge pack of muscle,” giving the sense that he is both self-assured and powerful. Be aware of the direct characterization that Fitzgerald uses throughout the description, such as the specifics of Tom’s attire, such as “the effeminate swank of his riding gear” and his “glistening boots.”

When and how to use indirect tactics for character development

Here are three suggestions from professionals if you want to learn how to use indirect characterization in your own writing.

Pay close attention to the little things.

The “devil is in the details,” as the saying goes, Small elements that would often go unnoticed in real life might be used to subtly communicate character. Such nuances may include, for instance, how a character styles their hair, how their clothes fit, or subtle body language, like tapping one foot to show impatience.

These minute details not only reveal a great lot about your character, but they also make your story more vivid and realistic.

Describe a character’s home or way of life to show who they are as a person.

Discussing a character’s living situation and style of life is a great approach to quickly uncovering their personality. How neat or messy is their bedroom, for instance? This offers a great deal of information on the kind of person they are. Other characteristics, such as when they wake up in the morning, whether or not they have pets, and the type of food they eat, are all excellent indicators of a person’s personality.

Use repetition and consistency.

Like humans in real life, characters frequently display the traits that make them who they are. The difficulty for a writer is to come up with different ways to illustrate the same idea.

A character’s forgetfulness could be demonstrated, for example, by having them come late for an appointment, repeatedly ask someone for their name, and fail to complete a task at work. These are all instances of possible actions. Because of the regularity, it is much easier for the reader to acquire a distinct sense of the character because the combined impact of all three instances is considerably larger than that of any one of them considered independently.

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