Is characterization and character growth part of the same thing or are they separated?

by Chris A
(Toronto , Ontario , Canada)

Question: I am not an expert so forgive me for asking this question but I really do want to know if characterization and character growth the same thing or are they different? And what is the basic definition of these terms?

Answer: Like many terms, you will find some people using these terms rather loosely.

However, characterization refers to how the writer describes the unique aspects of a character and especially his or her personality. It includes a very broad range of traits. On the surface, it may be as simple as assigning a character a unique name and physical traits. Going deeper, it may involve the character's unique background, skills, knowledge, and experience, as well as his unique personality, goals, feelings, beliefs, thoughts, and comfort zone that inform and are shown by what he does, what he says, and how he does/says these things.

Depth of characterization is determined by how much detail the reader is given regarding a character. The more we learn about a character's past and what goes on in his mind in the present, the deeper the characterization. Generally, this applies most to main or point-of-view characters.

Character growth, on the other hand, refers to how a character is pressured to change over the course of a story. A character will start out with a particular approach to things (this is part of their personality, shown by the characterization). They have a way of meeting their needs, solving problems, interacting with people, etc.

You create emotional depth in a story by putting your main character in a situation or giving him/her a problem that his usual approach may not be able to solve. Throughout the story, the main character is pressured to examine himself and consider if changing, taking a different approach, is the best way to handle this problem. The point where the character makes his ultimate decision is his personal crisis. In turn, this choice affects the outcome of the overall story.

If the character makes the right choice, we say that the character has grown. If he makes the wrong choice, he suffers a tragic fate.

In some stories, the right choice is to change. In other stories, the right choice for the character is to remain steadfast -- perhaps grow in his conviction.

Because readers cannot know what the right choice ahead of time, anymore than the character himself, they keep reading to find out.

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Dec 21, 2014
by: Chris A

Thank you so much for the answer and explaining it in simple terms .

I got just one more question to ask regarding the backstory of a character .

Does every character need to have a backstory or just fleshing out their personalities is enough ? Also fleshing out refers to the author showing the characters personality in different situations or is it something completely different ?

Thanks for all the help .

Dec 22, 2014
Is backstory universal? Depends...
by: James

... on what you mean. Everybody in real life has a history, but not every backstory will be presented to the reader. Basically they only come out when there's a need for it, relevant to the story. If the character had a trauma that this event reminds him of; if she changes her reaction because of a distant memory, even a little, then backstory comes out. Otherwise, it stays buried, or comes out in another story.

Dec 28, 2014
re: backstories
by: Glen

For a writer, knowing the backstories of all the characters helps create a better understanding of who they are and how they will behave in the story. It helps you make more interesting characters and a more entertaining story.

However, not every character's backstory is essential to the plot. The main character doesn't need to know everyone's backstory. So many details of character backstories may not appear in the novel.

For many authors, what appears in their novel represents only 10% of what they know about their characters. But the other 90% makes that 10% feel more authentic.

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