Creating vividly believable characters is essential for thriller writers, but understanding the characterization literary definition can be tricky. This blog post will explore how to use characterization in your stories for maximum effectiveness so you can immerse readers in a world populated with characters that feel real and alive.

Defining characterization

Characterization is a literary device writers use to present characters in the story and build them into believable three-dimensional entities.

It involves conveying information about a character’s personality, behavior, motivations, and physical traits through dialogue, action, thought processes, and other elements.

Characterization is essential in creating tension and drama for readers as they become invested in the characters’ storylines. It helps build suspense and empathy as you get to know the characters better and discover how their stories unfold.

Examples of characterization

In J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter series, each character has distinct personality traits expressed through their choices and actions throughout the books. Without characterization, we would not be able to connect with these characters as quickly or effectively as we do today!

There are three main types of characterization: direct, indirect, and dramatic

– Direct or explicit characterization is when an author explicitly reveals a character’s traits, such as in dialogue or narration.

– Indirect or implicit characterization occurs when the author uses clues to hint at a character, such as through their actions and reactions to situations.

– Dramatic characterization is when characters interact and reveal information about each other’s personalities. It can also be used to reveal more about the protagonist.

For example, In Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, it quickly becomes evident that Mr. Darcy has difficulties expressing himself openly after his marriage proposal is coldly rejected by Elizabeth Bennet—showing his reserved nature even though he feels deeply for her. In contrast, Elizabeth shows her fiery spirit after she refuses him firmly but respectfully, using sharp wit along the way.

Both examples demonstrate strong instances of both direct and indirect characterization working together within this novel (and also make for great drama!).

Here are some tips on how you can use characterization effectively

Give each character a unique voice:

Whether this is through their dialogue, the way they act or think, or even physical features like fashion choices and mannerisms, unique voices make characters feel more relatable to readers.

Let your characters evolve:

As stories move forward, so should your characters and their personalities. Showing how a character grows throughout the story builds suspense as readers keep turning the pages to uncover how their story ends.

Create meaningful relationships between characters:

Make sure each relationship is based on a logical premise and that it makes sense for the characters involved. This could range from friendships, romantic entanglements, rivalries, or even familial relationships—all of which can be used to add depth and complexity to your story.

What drives your characters to do what they do?

Establishing character motivations is a crucial part of characterization. This involves exploring the underlying desires, needs, and goals that drive your characters to undertake specific actions and make particular decisions.

By understanding what motivates a character, readers can build an emotional connection with them and anticipate their next moves. Establishing strong character motivations will create suspense and tension as readers try to predict how the characters react in different situations.

Crafting your characters’ flaws to make them more relatable

Another essential element of characterization is crafting believable flaws for your characters. Giving your characters weaknesses or imperfections helps make them feel real and provides another layer of complexity for readers.

Flaws can also help create tension and suspense as readers are unsure whether the characters can overcome their imperfections. Flaws also give characters room to grow and develop throughout the story, which keeps readers engaged and interested in seeing how they develop.

Here is a great example of direct characterization

Direct or explicit characterization is when the author includes information about a character that explains their outlook, feelings, thoughts, motivations, and behavior.

An example of a direct characterization of an antagonist can be seen in Mary Shelley’s horror novel Frankenstein. In the story, Victor’s creation—referred to as the Monster—is, from the outset, established as a villainous character with a profound hatred and resentment towards humans due to their cruel treatment of him.

From his first physical description, he becomes immediately recognizable as something unusual: “His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of pearly whiteness.”

He is described as having limbs “in proportion” but “of deplorable form,” which causes repulsion in all those who view him. This negative representation sets up anticipation for what will come from this creature later.

Soon afterward, we learn about his inner turmoil: feelings such as loneliness, sadness, and anger taking hold due to societal rejection. We begin to understand how these emotions start pushing him into darker realms since they give access to more destructive traits such as envy and vengeance, or even quoted thoughts like “I have love within me…but it ends in hatred”.

The Monster ultimately evolves into not just an expressionless wreck endured by everyone else around him but also an individual capable enough of getting back at those same individuals for all that they have done wrong against him.

Capturing your character’s voice

Capturing a compelling character voice is another vital part of characterization. Dialogue can help bring your characters to life and give readers a better sense of how they speak, think, and act.

You can authentically convey your characters’ personalities through dialogue, drawing readers in. It also allows you to explore the relationships between characters by showing how they interact with each other and how their dialogue can be interpreted.

How internal conflicts can propel the story forward

Internal conflicts are a powerful and engaging way to move your story forward. They’re conflicts that arise within the main character—typically over fear, worry, and doubts about their abilities or choices—which can be an excellent source of tension for your plot. They also provide a deeper insight into a character’s backstory, personality, and motivations.

One of the most common types of internal conflict is self-doubt. Your protagonist may question whether they can succeed in a given situation or accomplish a goal. As they struggle with this inner turmoil, it provides a vivid backdrop for events unfolding outside themselves.

For example, in The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Katniss Everdeen battles her fears throughout the trilogy as she fights for her life while protecting those around her from harm. Her ultimate internal conflict is between what she knows is right and what she feels compelled to do—and even though these feelings sometimes overwhelm her until she’s on the brink of giving up hope altogether, it’s this sense of self-doubt that creates suspenseful moments which propel the story forward in exciting ways.

Show, don’t tell when it comes to characterization

Subtext and body language can be powerful tools for characterization. Subtle looks, gestures, and expressions can convey much about characters without them saying a single word.

Using subtext and body language in your writing helps create tension and suspense as readers try to decipher the true meaning behind these subtle hints. It also allows you to explore characters’ inner thoughts and feelings in a more subtle way that engages readers.

Here are some examples of subtle looks, gestures, and expressions:

– Subtle gestures usually involve minor moves involving hands or arms, revealing our feelings and intentions. For instance, interlacing your fingers on the table when someone enters the room could indicate you feel comfortable with them, whereas holding onto your wrists while talking might suggest insecurity or lack of confidence.

– Fiddling with something nervously: If someone is uncomfortable, they might fiddle their fingers together or with an object such as a pen or keychain out of nervousness and discomfort.

– Quickly averting gaze/looking away from someone. This can indicate that someone is uncomfortable making prolonged eye contact with you.

– Subtle looks can mean brief eye contact between two people that conveys specific messages—such as interest, recognition, or secrecy.

– Glaring intently at somebody. When used correctly, a glare can demonstrate disapproval without explicit words being said out loud—thus allowing people to express their opinions without getting into confrontations—which makes it great for situations requiring tactfulness and diplomacy over vocal arguments at times!

How settings can influence characters

The setting of your story is also an essential factor when it comes to characterization. The story’s environment can impact how characters think, act, and feel, as their surroundings shape their behavior and decisions.

By understanding the relationship between your characters and their environment, you can better portray how they interact with the world around them. This helps build suspense and tension as readers become invested in the characters’ stories and wonder what will happen next.


Characterization is the foundation for any successful thriller because it drives the characters in a story to do what they do. From crafting flawed traits that make them more relatable to capturing a unique voice, characters must be adequately developed.

A great way to make your characters come alive is by showing instead of telling—letting readers experience them rather than explaining their actions. Plus, a layer of complexity can be added if you use settings to influence and further develop your characters.

With all these tips in mind, writers can create dynamic and exciting thrillers with characters readers won’t soon forget!

Thank you for taking the time to read. May you find success and joy in all that you create.

If you’re working on your first novel and are looking for more help with your writing, please check out my other articles at https://ullahakanson.com/blog/

Best of luck with your writing!


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