Susan C. Anthony


There are many ways to describe a person's character:

  • Direct information about the character
  • Conversations with other characters
  • Descriptions of the person's thoughts
  • Others' thoughts about the character
  • Descriptions of the character in action
  • Comparisons of the character with others.

One of my favorite activities is to cut out pictures of people with strong characteristics. I used National Geographic photographs. Each student gets a picture and is to write a characterization of that person. Then all the pictures are displayed for everyone to see and students volunteer to read their paragraphs. The game is to guess which character is being described. Use showing not telling language. Here are a couple of examples I wrote for this assignment. (I normally write along with the kids.)

Old Mrs. Markham was the kind of woman almost anyone would want to have for a grandma. Going to her house was pure adventure. She lived in the same old wood shack she and grandpa had shared for 40 years, on their farm in the Ozarks. Although she missed grandpa a lot, his death hadn't stopped her from smiling. She radiated energy and was always on the move, working outside in the garden, hauling water, baking cookies.

Sancho had worked in the fields since he was four, moving from farm to farm, picking lettuce or tomatoes, digging potatoes. Year after year after year of the hardest work imaginable had worn him down, inside and out. Moving around so much, he hadn't gotten much of an education. He hadn't much to look forward to but year after year after year of the same thing—working dawn to dusk for barely enough money to stay alive.

Another activity might be to have students choose some character qualities and create an imaginary character. Think about what motivates your character: physical well-being, a need for love or belonging, achievement, change, adventure, beauty and order.

Samples of Characterization

This was the foreman—a boiler-maker by trade—a good worker. He was a lank, bony, yellow-faced man, with big intense eyes. His aspect was worried and his head was as bald as the palm of my hand; but his hair in falling seemed to have stuck to his chin, and had prospered in this new locality, for his beard hung down to his waist. He was a widower with six young children (he had left them in charge of a sister of his to come out there), and the passion of his life was pigeon flying.
—Joseph Conrad in Heart of Darkness

If you were looking at the outside of my grandpa, you wouldn't see very much. He was just about as big around the middle as he was tall. He didn't have much hair either, just a little around the edges; and it was as gray and stiff as a wild hog's whiskers. He wore glasses, chewed Star tobacco, and need a shave about three hundred and sixty days a year. It was the inside of my grandpa that really counted. He had a heart as big as a number four washtub; and inside that wrinkled old hide of his was enough boy-understanding for all the boys in the world.
—Wilson Rawls in Summer of the Monkeys

It was part of Betty's obstinacy, that she never would believe in reading, or the possibility of it, but stoutly maintained to the very last that people first learned things by heart and then pretended to make them out from patterns on paper, for the sake of astonishing honest folk, just as do the conjurers.
—R. D. Blackmore in Lorna Doone

In truth I know not how it was, but everyone was taken with Annie, at the very first time of seeing her. She had such pretty ways and manners, and such a look of kindness, and a sweet soft light in her long blue eyes, full of trustful gladness. Everybody who looked at her seemed to grow the better for it, because she knew no evil. And then the turn she had for cooking, you would never have expected it; and how it was her richest mirth to see that she had pleased you. I have been out in the world a vast deal, as you will own hereafter, and yet have never seen Annie's equal for making a weary man comfortable.
—R. D. Blackmore in Lorna Doone

"Well, about time, too," the old lady said, majestically rising to her full height, cigar ash tumbling from her black traveling costume as she crushed the butt beneath the heel of her boot. The guard noticed that his own shoes were at least five sizes smaller and that he came just about up to her shoulder as they stood there.
—Alan Rune Pettersson in Frankenstein's Aunt

Character Words

  • Driven to excel
  • Temperamental and changeable
  • Shy and fearful
  • Neurotic
  • Loud and jovial
  • Comforting and selfless
  • A braggart
  • Cheerful and dependable
  • Daring and bold
  • Groveling
  • Tough and hardened
  • Shallow
  • Vibrant and exciting
  • Eager
  • Dramatic
  • Intellectual
  • Exacting and disapproving
  • Tireless and energetic
  • Thoughtful
  • Soothing
  • Unorganized
  • Disagreeable and contrary
  • Peacemaker
  • Friendly
  • Slow to anger
  • Selfish and self-indulgent
  • Slow and muddling
  • Ruthless
  • Determined and ambitious
  • Despairing and defeated by life
  • Angry and defiant
  • Lazy
  • Obnoxious and spoiled
  • Faithful and loyal
  • Overly admired
  • Noisy, a show-off
  • Suspicious
  • Impulsive
  • Hyper tense and nervous
  • Scheming
  • Threatening and overbearing
  • A failure
  • Clinging and helpless
  • Witty and entertaining
  • Playful and teasing
  • Stiff and unbending, rigid
  • Naive and innocent
  • Overly neat and fastidious
  • Devious and deceitful
  • Sloppy and careless
  • Studious
  • Fretting and brooding
  • Insecure
  • Morose and pessimistic
  • Mysterious and intriguing
  • Inventive
  • Too sweet
  • Fanciful and imaginative
  • Quiet and retiring
  • Courageous and fearless
  • Self-centered and demanding

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Source:, ©Susan C. Anthony