Understanding Texts



CaptureThe characters of a story are the people, or animals etc., about which are written. The important characters will relate to the themes of the novel and, to give them depth, will struggle with inner conflicts. If you answer the questions below about the main characters in a story, you will be able to identify how they relate to key themes in a novel. This is important because one possible type of question you could be given is how a particular character relates to a certain theme or idea associated with it.

  • Relationships between characters
  • How often do they appear in the text?
  • Protagonist or Antagonist
  • Why are they in the text?
  • Character features

To find out about a character, you should examine their actions, speech, how other characters react to them. You should also consider how the author describes them, if their thoughts or emotions are revealed and what their background is.

Character and Conflict

The two types of conflict which a character can be drawn into are separated into inner conflicts (Internal conflicts) and outer conflicts (External conflicts). An inner conflict is happens within the mind of the character. Often the character will change a specific aspect of their personality to either overcome their problems or because they realise that the aspect has been holding them back. As well as this, they could meet someone who forces them to change by putting them in certain situations. When you analyse a character, you should examine their relationship with other characters and with their surroundings. It is important to consider how these relationships change as the plot develops in your English GCSE.

Therefore, when you compare a character at the start of the novel with how they end up, it is easy to identify a character contrast. Character contrasts are clear differences either within or between characters.

Internal Contrasts – Compare one character at two different points in a novel

  • A character starts off nave and believing that everyone wishes to help them learns that not everyone they meet will be trustworthy and not have ulterior motives.
  • A cynical character that refuses to help other people because they believe that everyone is out for themselves learns that some people do help others selflessly. Usually, this is through them helping another person when they have nothing to gain.
  • Characters that tend to talk before thinking learn that this has consequences and start to consider what they say before they speak.
  • Characters who are afraid to talk or act because they overthink about what might happen if they do learn that it is better to make mistakes then to remain silent. They become more likely to speak or act.
  • Victims of bullying stop letting the bully get away with it and stand up to them.
  • Bullies realise the effect of their actions and stop hurting others. Alternatively, a negative change could be when the bully ends up as the victim.
  • Loner characters learn that having relationships in the form of love or friendship is better than being alone. They become more social. This can be evidenced by the way they speak to people.

External Contrasts – Compare two different characters

Many of the internal contrasts are relevant to external contrasts as well:

  • Nave characters contrast with experienced or worldly characters.
  • Characters who think or talk rather than acting contrast with characters who say what they are thinking and act on what they say.
  • Victims contrast with bullies.
  • Sociable/friendly characters contrast with solitary/loner characters.
  • Characters who lead contrast with those who follow.
  • Selfless characters contrast with selfish ones.
  • Intelligent characters contrast with stupid ones.
  • Wise characters contrast with foolish characters.

Often, it is when a character meets another with whom they contrast in an aspect of their personality that the character begins to change. Characters will be influenced by others. Remember that change in a character is the key to bringing them alive and making them fully developed. No one wants to read about a character that goes through life completely uninfluenced by events and other people.