8 Elements of Character

When analyzing a character, we can break that character down in 8 elements to help us create a complete picture of who that person is. Note that there is some overlap on this.

Physical description: what the person looks like, dresses like, how the person carries herself, how sits and walks, etc. Anything that you can see about her that gives us clues to who she is. Please remember that authors create characters and choose these physical attributes as part of the character.

Background: Who is this person? Where was she raised, what does she know how to do, what kind of jobs has she held, what special skills does she have, what education does she have, etc. This is her past experience that shapes who she becomes.

Personality: What kind of person is she? This includes demeanor, temperment, etc. Find actions that illustrate this or characters saying it. Examples include: shy, outgoing. angry, impulsive, fearful, etc. Note that this may change according to the circumstances, but a person’s personality usually guides how they respond to situations.

Relationships: How does she get along with people? Does she have a lot of friends, or only a few close friends? Does she get along with her family? Why or why not? Does she hate everyone? Fall in love too quickly? Have an ongoing rivalry with her sister?

Words and Actions: What does the person say and do, and what do others say about your character or do with or to her? Notice that not EVERYTHING someone says tells us about him or her. If you ask me a question and I give you a direct answer, then that’s not revealing. If I answer every question with, “Who wants to know?” that could be. Watch for topics the person talks about a lot, for example, or words that are repeated. Authors have a lot of words they can use; if the word is repeated, it’s probably important (please don’t tell me about “the” or “and”: you need to choose words that tell you something about the character). Watch also for what other characters say about your character both to her and behind her back. Is there a difference? What does that tell you?

Motivation: Why does your character do what she does? Note that motivations include money, fear, desire for fame, need to prove parents wrong, need to prove parents right, etc. Their motivation may be what they want, such as money, or it could be what they are trying to get away from, such as fear. Note that the goal may or may not clear from the motivation. Put what they want in your description, too.

Conflict: Yes, I know, you learned this in middle school: man against man, man against himself, man against nature. Very nice. Now, think about conflict this way: What is standing in the way of your character getting what he or she wants? Note that sometimes we can be in conflict with ourselves. Looka t this carefully: it usually drives the plot (or, the sequence of events in the story).

Change: Don’t just tell me whether she changes over the course of the story. Tell me how she does. She is nicer, or more considerate, etc. Not all characters change, by the way. James Bond never gets to the end of an adventure and says, “All these fast cars, women, and martinis are so shallow. I should join the Peace Corps and do something important with my life.”

6 thoughts on “8 Elements of Character

  1. Nice to see a list. I’ve thought about Elements of character foryears. Some things i would add; Name – strong name = strong character Tools – can reaveal quickly who they are and can be used as cammo. Idiana jones and his whip or the doctor with the stethoscope draped around his neck that allowed the fugitive to escape Dress – perhaps a subset of physical apperance but revealing about personal hygine and profession
    Intelligence and education – perhaps a subset of background but I teach Family and history as separate elements Age – does experience and ability match their age? and perhaps even if the character is lucky or unlucky. Currently I think there is a movie based on an unlucky character – seems a weak premise but anything to turn a buck eh?
    Probably lots more I’ve missed. Still looking for the definitive list. Like the 12 or so Elements of setting not all the elelemnts are included in every character but the elements create an opportunity for the author to help the reader identify with and understand their character.

  2. Thanks very much.
    This is an extremely intuitive list.
    Its really helped solidify my understanding of character development.

  3. Hi msansbach, can I get your real name? Because we would like to use your article on our research study. I hope you can email me your real name. Thank you. 🙂

  4. I’m sorry, but I would like to know from what book did you get those elements? I need some books as references for my assignment, and I thought it would be nice if you’re willing to tell me in what book can I find those elements. thank you.

  5. I created this many years ago. You can cite this blog post for your assignment. Thank you for asking, and I hope this is helpful!

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