Episode #3 of the course Studying English literature: Excel in the study of novels, poems, plays, and more by K.C. Finn
We laugh, we cry, we live alongside the characters in great literature, so let’s find out how those characters are created, and how we can utilize our analytical minds to understand them to the fullest extent.
In this lesson, we’ll be exploring both character and point of view as a combined element, and giving you a brief introduction to how an author presents different characters during a tale, especially the ones whom they use to narrate the story.
Types of Narration
For a quick rundown, it’s important to understand the difference between First Person and Third Person narration. These are the two most popular forms for literary works, and First Person involves a lot of “I saw this” and “I did that” because it is written directly from the perspective of at least one central character, whom we live the story through. In Third Person narration, the author describes for us using “He”, “She” and “They” pronouns, and in doing so they choose the amount of distance we have from the character.
When authors choose to use an omniscient narrator in the Third Person, they can explore the thoughts and feelings of all the different characters, whereas some authors choose to only give us one perspective. In the case of these highlighted characters, it’s important to study the speech and thought presentation, through what the character expresses in direct dialogue, and what the author may tell us is running through their head in prose and description.
Presenting Other Characters
Once you have your narrator set, it’s time for this character to meet others. Where we only get the thoughts and feelings of a single or limited number of characters, we now begin to infer the thoughts and feelings of others in a different way. Authors can present these additional characters using their dialogue, but they will also have to employ techniques such as body language, physical description, and character development to get their emotional story across.
For this activity, it’s best to choose a character who is not the central character, so that you can use the full range of techniques without the author guiding you quite so directly. Make a page with the headings from the list below, and select a scene where you feel you really get a strong presence of the character, perhaps from the first time that we meet them in the story. Try to identify character traits and features, but also provide a direct quote from the text that makes you feel that your assumption is evidenced. You’ll see some examples below to guide you.
Evidence: “‘Oh, well if that’s how you see it… I guess we’ll just do it your way,’ he said quietly.”
Evidence: “His t-shirt was tight enough to see every muscle ripple as he walked towards me.”
Evidence: “She wrapped her arms tightly around her shaking shoulders.”
Evidence: “They were talking to me, but their eyes never left the open wine bottle on the dresser.”
When you also want to study the central character of any work, you can add thought and narrative presentation back in, and this should give you a complete list of where to look for evidence that brings a character from a great story to life. As always, it’s important to practice identifying these elements in whatever you choose to read, and if you find that some of them are missing, it could be an indication of under-development in the book itself. This will help you to analyze and distinguish between how different writers handle character from the story to story and enhance your critical thinking.
In the next lesson, we’ll be exploring how authors set up and describe such amazing settings, transporting our imaginative minds to faraway places, or recreating more realistic ones nearer to home.
The study of character begins at a young age in many literature curriculums, so if you feel like you need to revisit the basics and essentials, look no further than BBC Bitesize’s Character section.
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