Direct Characterisation in Literature

Writers use literary tools to express themselves in a better way. These tools are writing techniques that help them to express themselves, give meaning to their writing and highlight important themes in the text. These devices are what make literature so fascinating and engaging. It is as though they add that shimmer, that sparkle, to a text that could otherwise fall into a monotonous and boring rut. They take the writing beyond its literal, straightforward sense and also teach the reader how to read.

What is Direct Characterisation?

Amongst the various such devices, direct characterisation is one essential device; this device helps the writer to give information about a character to the reader, which enables the reader to understand the character better. Direct or explicit characterisation provides details about the character, like the appearance, background, motivations, and passions. It is direct information for the reader.

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Why is Direct Characterisation Important?

This device gives clear-cut and definite information about the character leaving no room for any ambiguity or reason for the reader to use their imagination. The writer uses distinctive adjectives and phrases to give a distinct picture. So when the reader has such details in place, they can pretty much visualise what the character is all about.

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The writer gives you a few pointed details, and then the reader can visualise other aspects. For instance, when the writer talks about a young police officer who is mean, the reader can get an idea of the character and then build up the rest in their head. The idea is to provide the reader with the essential facts to build the character’s image.

When should a Writer Use Direct Characterisation?

Direct Characterisation is generally used by writers in the initial stages when a character has to be introduced to the reader. The idea is to give the reader core details and background information at the outset so that the reader can clearly understand the character. But that does not mean the writer cannot add additional details later. However, if that is to be done, then it should be smooth and in a way that it blends with the text. Sometimes new information may be necessary if certain things have changed.

Difference between Direct and Indirect Characterisation

The characterisation can be direct and indirect. While direct characterisation gives direct and explicit details about the character, indirect is not that straightforward. Instead, it conveys the details through actions, dialogues or even internal monologue.

For instance, there is a character who doesn’t like the snow. Direct characterisation would take a straightforward approach and say

Lucy didn’t like the snow though she had lived in Canada all her life.

Indirect characterisation, on the other hand, would use a more roundabout and subtle manner to express the same. For example, the author could use an incident or a scenario to show the character’s dislike for snow without explicitly stating it.

Lucy’s mood started to change as the weather took a turn for the worse and the snowstorm hit them. She shut all the doors and windows and locked herself in the house. She nervously clutched at her husband’s arm as he got up to go out. 

Thus indirect characterisation is a tad vague and ambiguous, leaving the reader room to use their imagination. This is an excellent way to engage them because if the reader can build their version of the character, the character will become more personal and give a feeling of ownership.

But then direct characterisation is also important because every detail about a character cannot be left to the imagination; specific information and facts need to be stated for readers to understand the context. Therefore a writer needs to use both forms of characterisations for a compelling piece of writing.

Tips for Direct Characterisation

These tips will help you to get a better understanding of this literary device and thereby help you get better at creative writing.

1. Use Figurative Language

While it is essential to state the bare facts, the process does not have to be bland or boring. You, as a writer, could make it more entertaining and engaging by using figurative language. It is a way to make an emotional connection with the reader.

For example, you want to state that a character is feeling nervous, so rather than saying that the way it is, you could use a phrase like 

‘She had butterflies in her stomach‘, which would convey the same message but in a much more engaging fashion.

2. Avoid Spoon-Feeding the Reader

The direct characterisation should be used sparingly; the idea is to convey the fundamental facts to the reader, and that’s it. You cannot give every detail in a straightforward manner. That will amount to spoon-feeding the reader. You want the reader to get involved, to imagine to become engaged with you. It’s not a scientific, matter-of-fact piece that you are writing; it is a creative piece in which the reader should be actively involved. So you need to strike a balance between showing and telling, which is why you must blend the two devices.

3. Build Suspense

While the direct characterisation is essential in the introductory stage, it can also be used elsewhere in the text. The critical point is that it should be used strategically to be effective. When used in the right places, it can help to build suspense and anticipation. You should use it to slow down the narrative and prolong the suspense. For example, stating some bare facts in the middle of a tension full narrative can make the reader hooked and want to know more. While this can slow down the momentum, it can generate anticipation and build suspense when used smartly.

So as a writer, you need to use literary devices like direct and indirect characterisation. However, it is essential to strike a balance between both to make your writing more impactful.

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