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How to Write a Character Analysis Essay: Everything You Need to Know For Your Next Literary Assignment

College student sitting in bed working on a character analysis essay Writing a character analysis essay can seem like an easy task at first, but once you realize how much time and effort has to go into the process, it’s a little off-putting.

To properly analyze a character, you have to be able to dig deeper into the text. It’s more than just describing someone’s physical appearance or talking about the things they’ve done in the story; you have to dive into the character’s motivations, their context to the story, and significance of their character.

If that’s starting to sound like a lot to take in, you shouldn’t be worried! In this guide, we’re going to show you how to write a character analysis essay in easy-to-follow steps that will help you get ahead in your course.

Female student choosing a story to use for her essay

What is a Character Analysis Essay?

Like any assignment you write, you’ll need to know what it is you’re doing before you actually start writing your paper. So, let’s start with the basics: what exactly is a character analysis essay, and why are you writing one?

As we mentioned before, in this type of essay, you’re going to analyze a specific character from a novel, text, movie, TV show, or other type of story. In the paper, you’ll discuss various details and information about that character that make them who they are, and establish their position in the story.

Now, let’s get to the question of why you’re writing this essay. Often, a character analysis is a great way to understand and analyze the broader context of a story, as well as the way a story is written. Characters often take on symbolic meanings or are used to represent literary devices that tell a narrative. Sometimes a character is there to cause conflict (such as an antagonist), while other characters are there to progress the story (such as the protagonist).

Essentially, your professor is looking to see how you’ve read, understood, and interpreted a story, and a character within a story, to see the overall meaning of the text.

Male college student at a desk working on his thesis statement

How to Start Your Character Analysis Essay

The first thing you need to do is choose the character you’re going to analyze for your paper. This decision will be easy if your professor assigns you the character to use, but if you have the ability to pick one yourself, you’ll need to choose wisely.

Choosing a character to use for a character analysis essay is usually a strategic decision. If your professor hasn’t assigned you a specific character to use, you’ll want to pick someone you know you can write a detailed and thoughtful essay about.

Generally, you want to avoid minor characters that don’t add much to the story because you won’t typically find a lot of information about them – certainly not enough for an entire essay. These characters don’t show a lot of development over time, which means they don’t have a lot of value to add. Not to mention, it’ll be hard to find external sources if your assignment instructions require those.

This doesn’t mean you have to pick the protagonist or main character, but it should be someone at least a little significant. In fact, if you choose the protagonist, the chances are that tons of your other classmates will do the same thing, and your professor doesn’t want to read 20 essays about one character. By the time they get to yours, the marking will get tougher.

In the next section, we’ll go over a list of the different types of characters usually found in a story to help you determine the best option for your assignment.

College student laying in her dorm room reading a book for her character analysis essay

Types of Characters in a Story

Firstly, to understand how to write a character analysis essay, you should understand the different types of characters that appear within a story, as well as how to identify them. The type of character you choose to analyze will impact your ability to create a well-rounded, in-depth discussion. You have to be able to identify the significance of a character, and choosing the wrong one can spell disaster for your project (and your grade, inevitably).

In the next few sections, we’ll dive into each of these types of characters in more detail, but here is the core list:

● The protagonist

● The antagonist

● Major characters

● Minor characters

● Dynamic characters

● Static characters

● Foils

The Protagonist

The protagonist is the main character the story is about. Every single story ever told has at least one main protagonist – without one, your entire plot won’t have a leg to stand on.

Here are some examples of well-known protagonists in books, movies, and TV shows:

● Harry Potter in the Harry Potter series

● Katniss Everdeen in the Hunger Games series

● Ariel in Disney’s The Little Mermaid

● Romeo in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet

● Frodo Baggins in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit series

● Charlie in Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

● Lizzie McGuire in Disney’s Lizzie McGuire

● Alice in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland

● Wilbur in E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web

● Macbeth in Shakespeare’s Macbeth

Often, the protagonist is the hero of the story who goes through a journey or learns a valuable lesson. However, you could also encounter an anti-hero as a protagonist. An anti-hero is a main character that is morally ambivalent or doesn’t always do the right thing, or they do the right thing for the wrong reasons. They might do bad things, but the audience is still rooting for them (most of the time). Some examples of anti-heroes include Walter White from Breaking Bad, Tyrion Lannister from Game of Thrones, and Dexter in Dexter.

Another thing you should also remember here is that, while the protagonist often tells the story from their first-person perspective, the narrator of a story is not always the protagonist. Sometimes the narrator is a major or minor character looking in and telling the story, like Nick in The Great Gatsby.

The Antagonist

Usually the villain or “enemy,” the antagonist is the character in the opposite position to the protagonist. While it’s a common trope, the antagonist doesn’t always have to be the villain. It could just be someone who gets in the protagonist’s way or presents an obstacle for them, even if it’s well meaning.

Here are some examples of well-known antagonists in books, movies, and TV shows:

● Jafar in Disney’s Aladdin

● Lex Luthor in Superman

● Count Olaf in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events

● Iago in Shakespeare’s Othello

● Regina George in Mean Girls

● Mr. Darcy in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice

● Macduff in Shakespeare’s Macbeth

● Ursula in Disney’s The Little Mermaid

● The Wicked Witch of the West in L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

● Long John Silver in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island

Female college student sitting outside reading a book in the sun

Major Characters

A major character is usually someone who is important to the story, but isn’t the protagonist. It could be a best friend, a sidekick, a parent or guardian, or even a close confidant or teacher. A love interest is also a type of major character, especially if that love interest goes along for the journey or causes some type of conflict for the protagonist.

Here are some examples of major characters:

● Professor Dumbledore in the Harry Potter series

● Mercutio in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet

● Miss Honey in Roald Dahl’s Matilda

● Lois Lane in Superman

● Daisy Buchanan in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby

● Han Solo in the Star Wars saga

● Laurie Laurence in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women

● Jane Bennet in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice

● Baloo in Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book

● Marie in Disney’s The Aristocats

Minor Characters

Minor characters are usually side characters that don’t really add a whole lot to the actual plot of the story. They might be people who pop in every now and then, or someone who has to be included for the progression of the plot. For example, this could be someone’s family member or a bus driver that takes the protagonist to school each day.

Here are some examples of minor characters:

● Cinna in the Hunger Games series

● Eleanora Poe in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events

● Aunt March in in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women

● Fleur Delacour in the Harry Potter series

● Rickon Stark in the Game of Thrones series

● Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in Shakespeare’s Hamlet

● Jock and Trusty in Disney’s Lady and the Tramp

● Wheezy in Disney’s Toy Story 2

● Maria Hill in the Marvel Cinematic Universe

● Mace Windu in the Star Wars saga

Remember – minor characters do matter! It’s important to note that just because a character might be a minor character that doesn’t really get much of their own story, this doesn’t mean that they aren’t important, supportive to the plot, or loveable. If you can find enough information about a minor character’s background and involvement in the plot, you can certainly analyze them for your essay.

College student sitting outside reading a book to analyze

Dynamic Characters, Static Characters, and Foils

A dynamic character is someone who grows and changes as a person throughout the story. Usually the protagonist is a dynamic character who learns a lesson and becomes a better person. However, those changes don’t always have to be positive – in the Star Wars saga, Anakin Skywalker is a dynamic character whose arc goes from starting out as a good, heroic jedi to the evil Sith Lord Darth Vader.

Static characters generally stay the same throughout the story and don’t really experience any growth. Usually you don’t find out too much about static characters, like their background or personal history, but they’re there to play a specific role or be a symbolic character. Minor characters tend to be static characters as well.

Here is an example: In To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout Finch is a dynamic character because she learns throughout the story that it’s wrong to judge other people based on stereotypes and prejudices. Meanwhile, Atticus Finch is a static character because he has a strong moral code and sticks to it throughout the story, thereby teaching Scout not to judge others.

Foils are characters who exist as a contrast against the protagonist, usually to showcase certain aspects of their personality or qualities. This isn’t necessarily a villain or the antagonist, but someone who has different traits than the protagonist. For example, you could have a sweet and endearing character who is best friends with a cold, tough character.

George and Lennie in Of Mice and Men are a great example of character foils. While they are best friends, they are opposites: George is small, intelligent, and skinny, while Lennie is very large, strong, and mentally disabled. In presenting them as opposites, John Steinbeck showcases the individual traits and qualities of both of their personalities, as well as how they complete one another.

There are also a few different types of foils an author could use. Foils could be presented through a subplot, two contrasting objects, or a set of characters.

College student in her school library looking for a story to write about

How to Analyze a Character

Now that you know what character you’re going to analyze, it’s time to get to work! Go back to your text and make note of any detail you can think of about your character. Here is a list of things to consider when you’re getting started:

● Physical traits: What does the character look like? Do they have any identifying characteristics, like Harry Potter’s lightning bolt scar? This can include anything from hair colour to the clothing they wear, height and body type, and so on.

● Emotional traits: How does the character react to emotional situations? For example, are they cold and closed off, or are they more open with their feelings?

● Relationships: Who are the closest people to your character? Do they have a posse of best friends they work with, or a close family they confide in?

● Background: Where does the character come from? What is their occupation? Where do they live, and what kind of lifestyle do they have?

● Motivation: What drives your character to do the things they do? For example, in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch chooses to represent Tom Robinson even though he knows he will be attacked for it because he has a strong moral code and believes in justice.

● Moral Code: Is this character inherently good or bad? What are the intentions of their actions? For example, Superman and Captain America are both classic characters that have strong moral codes and live by them in everything they do.

● Values: What are your character’s values? Here are some examples of values your character could have: loyalty, spirituality, determination, jealousy, empathy or kindness, optimism, family, love, wealth, and so on.

● Objective: What is your character’s objective in life? It could be as simple as wanting to become or be wealthy, like Mr. Burns in The Simpsons, or wanting to free the world from evil, like Sam and Dean Winchester in Supernatural.

Here are some other questions to ask yourself while you analyze your text:

● How does the character speak?

● What words would you associate with your character? This can also be a great question to ask to figure out your character’s values.

● What is this character’s purpose in the story? In other words, if they aren’t the protagonist, how do they help or support them along their journey?

When in doubt, try filling out a template like this Ultimate Character Questionnaire from The Novel Factory. It’s designed to be used to create characters, but the questions on the list can be used to analyze existing characters when you need to determine how much you know about them.

Female student confused while trying to analyze a pile of books

Putting it All Together

Now that you understand what kind of traits and elements you’re looking for and have taken down some notes on your character, it’s time to start writing your essay and put it all together.

An analysis essay of any text, character, or theme boils down to your ability to dig deeper and go beyond the surface of your character’s story. You have to look for the points the author is trying to make, or the symbolism they are trying to represent.

For example, let’s say you’re doing an analysis on Harry Potter from any of the Harry Potter books. You’re not here just to talk about his signature glasses and lightning bolt scar or the fact that he lives in a cupboard under the Dursleys’ stairs. The goal is to identify the journey Harry embarks on and the lessons he learns along the way that help him grow as a person. How does he change from the time he arrives at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to the time he leaves, and what does this mean?

Closeup shot of a female student reading a book for her character analysis essay

The Anatomy of a Good Character Analysis Essay

As we say with any writing assignment, you should start with an outline. Your outline will help you keep track of the information you need to include, the order you should present it in, and the flow of your paper as a whole. It’s also a great way to avoid writer’s block because you can always go back and consult the outline if you get stuck.

Here is a basic outline for a good character analysis essay that you can follow:
Paragraph 1: Introduction

● Start with a catchy hook.

● Give some background information on your character and the story they come from.

● End with your thesis statement.

Paragraph 2: Background Information and Identification

● Start with a topic sentence to introduce the paragraph.

● Describe your character: physical appearance, background, what type of character they are, their relationships, main characteristics, and so on.

● End with a transition sentence leading into the next paragraph.

Paragraph 3: Your Character’s Journey, Motivation, and Challenges

● Start with another great topic sentence to introduce the paragraph.

● Write about the main journeys, challenges, and obstacles your character goes through in the story.

● If your character is a dynamic character, describe how they grow and change throughout the course of the story.

● End with another transition sentence leading into the next paragraph.

Paragraph 4: Insights and Lessons Learned From the Character

● Again, start with a good topic sentence introducing the paragraph.

● In this paragraph, you can discuss the overall significance of the character and the lessons the audience can learn from them.

● End with a transition sentence summarizing your statements and leading into the conclusion.

Paragraph 5: Conclusion

● Start by restating your thesis statement in different words.

● Summarize the main points you’ve made about your character.

● End with a strong concluding sentence that leaves your reader with something to think about.

For more help structuring your essay, check out our blog on essay format. We go over all the elements you should include in your outline, as well as the right way to structure your paper for your specific assignment type.

Writing a Character Analysis Thesis Statement

Your thesis statement should concisely describe the points you’re making about your character and the overall conclusion you come to. It doesn’t need to hash out every detail you’ll write, but it should give the reader some idea of what your analysis is going to be about.

For example, if we continue with the example of a character analysis on Harry Potter and follow the outline above, your thesis statement might look something like this:
“J.K. Rowling’s titular character Harry Potter begins his journey as a lonely, shy orphan boy who finds out he is actually a wizard; from the moment he sets foot on the Hogwarts grounds for the first time until he graduates, he follows the hero’s journey to discover the power of friendship, strength, and courage in order to beat evil Lord Voldemort.”

For more help writing a great thesis statement, or any other part of your essay, download our free essay writing ebook. This book contains over 150 pages of helpful advice, tips, and step by step information that will take you through every part of writing any type of academic essay.

Frustrated student laying with a story book on their head

Don’t Feel Like Writing Your Own Character Analysis Essay? Let us Take Care of it

When it comes to writing a really good character analysis essay that’s worth a large percentage of your grade, you may have some hesitations about doing it yourself when you aren’t comfortable with the concept. Fortunately, at Homework Help Global, we have a team full of experts who are more than comfortable to step in and help out.

Our writing team not only loves to read, but has written plenty of character analysis assignments during their respective academic careers. We’re more than happy to step in and help you get your grades to where you need them. If you need more reassurance, you can always check out our Sample Works page to see some of the papers we’ve done.

Get a free quote now for your character analysis assignment, or fill out our quick and easy online order form so one of our writers can get started for you.

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