Case Study: Indirect Characterization

I have already posted about indirect characterization (see Specialized Cells), but I thought a real-world example would be beneficial. I also enjoy “reading between the lines” of people’s personalities. When I’m treating a patient, this can either be a blessing or a curse.

True account: When I’m in a patient’s house, and he/she has a collection of books, it is a real struggle to keep my eyes away from the spines. Unless, of course, said patient is really ill. But the things people keep in their homes can also be used to indirectly characterize them.

From Marcel Proust’s 35 questions, I am choosing to represent only five below. I will first give you the question (Q), the subject’s answer (A), and my interpretation of what that answer says about his personality (IC). Because my previous post was lengthy, I will keep this one relatively short.

Q: What do you consider your greatest achievement?

A: Applied to a school in New York for a career path. He was the youngest of the 40 to be interviewed.

IC: This screams ambition to me. Not only did our subject have to travel long distance for this interview, but he was also only 19 at the time when he went. 


Q: Which talent would you most like to have?

A: Intellectual ability, high level of thinking. 

IC: Our subject has high expectations for himself, and that’s all I’m going to say about that.


Q: Which living person do you most despise?

A: “Not favorable” towards a former football coach who unnecessarily benched him during games for (he thinks) not attending a non-mandatory camp during the summertime.

IC: Our subject had a difficult time with the word “despise” because really, unless you’re a cat, you probably don’t despise anyone. “Not favorable” was his substitution, and the fact that he changed it in his answer shows that he doesn’t hold grudges (at least not like his coach).  


Q: If you were to die and come back as a living person/thing, who/what would you be?

A: Justin Verlander because “he’s a great pitcher and his wife is Kate Upton.”

IC: Critical thinking. Rather than committing to a singular person, his answer implies that, by being Justin Verlander, he would also possess things such as remarkable athletic ability and an attractive wife. 


Q: What are your favorite names?

A: Issac, Katie, Mason (subject couldn’t remember them all on the spot).

IC: Our subject chose to interpret this question as “What would you like to name your kids?” (If you’re a writer, you probably interpreted this as “What would you like to name your characters?”) Besides the fact that his interpretation implies he would like to have kids one day, his choice of names also suggests he finds more modern, yet classic names, appealing. Though I didn’t ask how specifically he would spell the above names, spelling can also reveal something about an individual. Honestly, a lot could be said about names. One need only look at the roll call of my siblings and me to see that my parents chose out-of-the-box names.


All of this is to show that indirect characterization is everywhere. When crafting relatable characters, sometimes it’s useful to pause and think about the people in your own life for examples. I can’t tell you how many times I incorporated pieces of people I know into The Pretenders or other writing projects– sometimes it happens without you noticing! The first time I read through my manuscript, I had to smack myself for accidentally creating a character dynamic similar to two of my friends at the time. 

Regardless of your intentional vs. unintentional, indirect characterization is one of the most important techniques in the creative writing world, if not the most. I hope this case study further advanced your understanding, Reader. And now, I’m going to be late for chemistry.



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