Lesson 4

Characters, the people or things that perform the actions in a story, are an essential element of fiction. Writers strive to create characters that are believable and that arouse our sympathy. To do this, they often draw upon their own experiences.

Some fictional characters strike us as quite familiar, or similar to people we already know. In Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge reminds us of stingy people we have met in real life. We also recognize Bob Cratchit from our own experiences with people who are good-natured and easygoing.

As you read about fictional characters, think about these three questions:

  1. What details does the writer use to describe the characters?
  2. What do the characters say and do as they react to others and to a variety of situations?
  3. What do the characters reveal about themselves in their thoughts and feelings?

When you study a character, it may help you to think of the three questions as sides of a triangle. Each side represents one category of information about a character.


Compare and Contrast Characters

Writers compare two or more characters to show similarities, and they contrast characters to show differences. They compare and contrast characters’ appearance, actions, and motivations, or their reasons for doing something.

Some passages use only comparison or only contrast. Other passages compare and contrast. Look for direct statements of comparison and contrast such as They are alike because or One major difference is. You can also look for certain words and phrases that signal comparison, such as also, both, similar, the same as, and in the same way. For contrasts, look for words or phrases such as however, but, different from, better than, and on the other hand.

A Venn diagram can help you compare and contrast two people, events, or things. Similarities are placed in the overlapping area, and differences are placed in the outside areas.