What is the Difference Between Direct and Indirect Characterization

Main Difference – Direct vs Indirect Characterization

Characterization refers to the way in which the author reveals the characters in his work. Characterization can be mainly classified into two types known as direct characterization and indirect characterization. Direct characterization is the instances where the writer makes direct comments about the personality of the character whereas indirect characterization refers to instances where the writer reveals information about a character through the characters’ actions, words and thoughts, and other characters’ reactions or response to that character. Thus, the difference between direct and indirect characterization is similar to that of telling and showing. In direct characterization, the writer tells about the character and in indirect characterization, the writer shows us what the character is like.

This article explains,

1. What is Direct Characterization?
     – Definition, Characteristics, and Examples

2. What is Indirect Characterization?
     – Definition, Characteristics, and Features

3. What is the difference between Direct and Indirect Characterization?

Difference Between Direct and Indirect Characterization - Comparison Summary

What is Direct Characterization

In direct characterization, the writer directly comments about the character and his personality and tells the readers what he or she is alike. This can be done by the narrator, another character or by the character himself.

Look at the following example from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice:

“Mr. Bennet was so odd a mixture of quick parts, sarcastic humour, reserve, and caprice, that the experience of three and twenty years had been insufficient to make his wife understand his character. Her mind was less difficult to develop. She was a woman of mean understanding, little information, and uncertain temper. When she was discontented, she fancied herself nervous. The business of her life was to get her daughters married; its solace was visiting and news.”

Here, the narrator is directly describing the character traits of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet.

What is the Difference Between Direct and Indirect Characterization

“Oh, …. Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner!.. “ – Dickens’ characterization of Scrooge in ‘A Christmas Carol’

What is Indirect Characterization

In indirect characterization, the writer reveals information about a character through the character’s actions, words, and words along with other characters’ interactions with that particular character.

Since the writer doesn’t directly comment on the personality of the character, the readers have to imagine the character by his various actions and thoughts. So it is important to pay attention to certain factors to know more about characters. These factors include

Speech – what the character says and how he says

Thoughts – what are the private thoughts or feelings of the character

Effect – how the character affects others in the book, and how others react to him or her

Actions – how does the character act and how does he respond to certain situations

Looks – how does the character look

A writer uses a combination of both direct and indirect characterization in his work. Indirect characterization paints more vivid images and is more likely to appeal to reader’s imagination whereas direct characterization is used to achieve brevity and to move the story forward.

What is the Difference Between Direct and Indirect Characterization - 2

What is the Difference Between Direct and Indirect Characterization

Direct vs Indirect

Direct Characterization: The writer directly comments on the personality of the character.

Indirect Characterization: The writer doesn’t directly comment on the personality of the character.

Revelation of the Character

Direct Characterization: The characterization is revealed directly by the narrator, another character or the character himself.

Indirect Characterization: The characterization is indirectly revealed through the thoughts, words, actions of the character as well the reactions of other characters to this particular character.

Show vs Tell

Direct Characterization: The writer tells the readers about the character.

Indirect Characterization: The writer shows us what the character is like.

 Image Courtesy:

“Marley’s Ghost-John Leech 1843-detail” By John Leech – a detail form File:Marley’s Ghost-John Leech, 1843.jp (Public Domain) via

 By Mark Twain (1835-1910) –  (Public Domain) via

About the Author: Hasa

Hasa has a BA degree in English, French and Translation studies. She is currently reading for a Masters degree in English. Her areas of interests include literature, language, linguistics and also food.


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