Characterization vs. Character

When writing a story, it is important to keep in mind the difference between characterization and character. Robert McGee, in his outstanding classic entitled STORY, describes this difference as follows: 

“Characterization is the sum of all observable qualities of a human being, everything knowable through careful scrutiny. . . . Character is revealed in the choices a human being makes under pressure” (pp. 100-101). 

When writing a story, pressure is absolutely necessary, for it is pressure that reveals true character. The same is true in life. We know what we are really made of when under pressure. As we watch how our characters react under pressure, we know who they are at their core. So if you want to know who your characters really are, and if you want your reader to know as well, put your characters under as much pressure as you can. 

While characterization deals in external traits, such as physical appearance and visible personality, character deals in matters of the heart. As McGee points out, “the revelation of true character in contrast or contradiction to characterization is fundamental to all fine storytelling.”

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2 thoughts on “Characterization vs. Character

  1. That’s very interesting. And it helps to know that when creating your characters.

    Sometimes, my characters surprise me by their reactions. 🙂 And that will often take the story a different direction then I had planned. That’s not always a bad thing, but it does require a bit of rewriting.

    July 22, 2009 at 1:43 PM