Character vs Characterization

Character vs Characterization
There are a lot of articles and books on writing today, however, many of them do not tackle the difference between character and characterization in creative writing. I like to use some fiction techniques in my creative nonfiction to add depth to my stories as well as help my readers enjoy my work more.

In this article, I will cover the basic differences between the two so that you have an overview you can use as a reference. I have devoted a separate section to each one in on my nonfiction writing site to give you an indepth understanding with practical examples.

Before I begin this overview, you might be wondering why you need to know the difference and what it will do for your writing?

First and foremost, if you desire to hone your craft of writing and thereby magnify your gifts and talents for the type of writing you enjoy, then take a moment to think about the most memorable character you can remember from all the books you have read. Next, take a moment to think about the most memorable character you can remember in a movie.

As you do this, you will generally be able to remember the physical description of the character in a book, or what the character looked like in the movie. In addition, you will also remember things like what the character wanted or strived for. What kept the character moving toward their desire, as well as, what stood in their way.

If your favorite character, whether it is from a book or movie, only allowed you to know the physical, and emotional aspects of the character you would not remember them. They would have been too flat to enjoy, and therefore would not have become one of your favorites.

Just like real life. I had a professor give me an example once that helps me to remember the difference as I write my stories. He compared these two things:

1. What if a person you knew came to your house and introduced you to an elderly gentleman that lives next door to you as a retired astronaut? I thought about that and it seemed to be an interesting piece of information. However, it did not provide me with any interest in getting to know this person any better.

2. What if a person you knew came over to your house and told you that the elderly gentleman that you have been bringing evening meals to for the last few years was a retired astronaut? Now, that would have me going back over to his house and wanting to sit down and hear all about it.


Because I had an interest in my neighbor who I had been bringing meals to. I was sympathetic toward him. I knew something of his personality, yes, but more important his actions toward me and life itself would have taught me his character as person. If he was honest, grumpy, or simply the kindest man I had ever met.

Therein lies the difference between Character and Characterization.

Here are some easy ways to differentiate the two:


Characterization are the visible qualities and traits of a person which can be physical, psychological, or social. These are the things that are taught the most in writing instruction books and they are the things that will make your characters “three-dimensional.”


On the other hand, character are the needs and objectives you show about your character in your plot. The objectives deal with surface desires, while needs are the inner things that drive your characters actions.

For example. Your character is a writer who wants his or her book to become a New York Times Best Seller so that they will have fame and fortune.

Your character in the course of the story unexpectedly meets the person of their dreams. The final result is the character changes his or her focus and follows after their inner need for love and stability in their life by pursuing the person of their dreams and putting their writing in second place.

It is not important if your character wins the person of their dreams or is jilted by them. Neither is it important if they finish their book and it sells well or is a dismal failure. What is important is that your character’s objectives, what they thought they truly wanted and desired, are changed by an inner need that they may not even have known they have. The character’s inner need is a subconscious desire or an emotional want they did not know they had.

Now, when you are developing your stories, be sure to include both character and characterization to make your characters unforgettable.

Happy writing!

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