How to Write a Character Analysis Essay in 7 Steps

To analyze a character in a story (whether it’s a book or film) essentially means to discuss three things:

  1. What the character was like before the adventure
  2. How the character responded to the inevitable challenges 
  3. How the character transformed as a result of the adventure

It is very rare that a character in a story doesn’t change. An example of that would be the film The Remains of the Day where the main character never changes. That movie was a bit disappointing 🙂

The most interesting part of any story is what happens to its characters – how they transform as a result of facing difficulties in pursuit of a goal or while trying to solve a problem:

  • Rocky faces a world champion to turn from a boxing mediocrity into a respected warrior and athlete
  • Mulan helps defeat a fearsome invader to go from an awkward bride to a national heroine 
  • Harry Potter must face inner and outer demons to turn from a troubled schoolboy into a real wizard

If you were to write an essay about any of these characters, these would be some of the likely central points in your paper. And in this tutorial, I will show you how to go about the process.

I’m Tutor Phil, and without further ado, let me take you through the…

7 Steps to Writing a Character Analysis Essay

Step 1. Choose the character you will write about

You may already have a pretty good idea of which character you want to write about. Or, perhaps your instructor has given you a prompt with a pre-selected character. 

If not, here are a few tips on choosing a character.

Make sure the character gets ample time and space in the story. Don’t choose a character that barely appears in the book or movie. Pick either the main character or a secondary character who gets a lot of attention from the author. 

You can choose a protagonist or an antagonist. The protagonist is the “good” guy or gal, and the antagonist is the anti-hero. You can analyze either one because both are very important characters in the story.

Choose a character who captivates your imagination. The better your emotional connection to the character, the easier it will be to write about them. If you have more than one story to choose from, pick your favorite character from any of the stories. 

These tips will ensure that you have enough material to write an essay. And let’s pick our character for the purposes of this tutorial. 

The character I’m choosing is the Beast from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (the animated feature). I absolutely love this animated film, and this also happens to be my favorite story ever.

The Beauty and the Beast as a story appears in many (almost all if not all) cultures of the world in one form or another. But we’ll focus on the Beast in Disney’s animated version because he’s a fascinating hero who undergoes an amazing transformation. 

Step 2. Read (or watch) the story again while taking notes

Even if you have already read the book or watched the movie, go through it again after picking your character. 

This time around, you’ll notice a lot more about this character than you did on the first reading or viewing. If it’s a movie, just watch the whole thing over while taking notes.

If it’s a long novel, you can reread only the key parts that are relevant to your character and what you might write about them. 

Character Qualities and Traits You Can Discuss

Let me give you a list of qualities and character traits you can notice and make notes about as you’re revisiting the story. 

Keep in mind that you can choose any one of these as your main subject in the essay. In the next step, we’ll do exactly that. We’ll also pick another one or more of these as supporting ideas.

So, make sure to take notes that are relevant to any of these aspects of character because they’ll be useful to you as you write the essay. 

Aspects of a Character

  • Transformation (how the character changes)
  • Strengths and special abilities
  • Flaws
  • Position/Status and how it changes
  • Physical appearance and traits
  • Motivation
  • Psychological makeup
  • Role in the overall message of the story

Additional elements to jot down

Quotations. Make sure to note the exact page number or time stamp in the film because you’ll need that when citing the quotation. Dialog can often reveal clues to the inner world of the character. 

Patterns of behavior. If any of the character’s behavior repeats, that is a clue to a character quality or trait. You may notice that a certain pattern of behavior occurs in more than one character. This is a possible theme you can explore in your essay.

Changes in attitude. If the character does something that is not like their typical behavior, that’s a clue to a transformation. It is interesting to learn why this character said or did something new and different. The character may be showing courage or decisiveness. 

Example of Note-taking

Here is an example of the kind of notes I would take as I’m rewatching Beauty and the Beast:

  • Transformation (how the character changes)
    • The Beast starts out chronically angry. But he calms down as time progresses and he makes progress in his courtship of Belle. 
  • Strengths and special abilities
    • The Beast is extremely strong physically
    • He also proves to be generous when he gifts the library to Belle
    • He is also gentle when he learns how to dance
  • Flaws
    • The Beast is under a magic spell (a curse)
    • He has serious anger issues
    • He seems extremely possessive
  • Position/Status and how it changes
    • He has all the qualities of a prince except the human form
    • He exhibits extreme boundaries and prohibits Belle from visiting certain parts of the castle 
  • Physical appearance and traits
    • The Beast looks like some kind of a furious animal resembling a lion
    • He’s not exactly ugly. But he’s scary and intimidating. 
  • Motivation
    • He must experience real love before the last petal falls off a rose in his secret room in order to turn back into a human being
  • Psychological makeup
    • The Beast has anger issues
    • He is possessive and has strong boundaries of what is permissible and what is not
    • He does not really believe that he can make the curse dispel 
    • He is easily frustrated
    • His curse came about as a result of arrogance and lack of kindness and compassion, so he has to deal with that, as well
  • Role in the overall message of the story
    • The Beast must overcome himself in order to become human. Perhaps the message of the story is that in order to be a real human being, you must overcome flaws that prevent you from experiencing real love.
  • This last point sounds like a good potential main subject/idea for the essay.

Completing this step will provide you with enough ideas to write an essay of any length. 

Step 3. Choose the main and supporting aspects of the character

In this step you’re really deciding what your essay will be about. Yes, it will be about this character you’ve chosen. But now you need to narrow down your subject matter. 

If you try to write about everything about this character, your essay will seem like it’s about nothing. This is why you really want to pick your main subject, which is something about the character that is going to be the main theme of the essay.

You also want to pick several supporting (lesser) ideas that will help you discuss this character. 

A great thing about this process is that by the time you get through Step 2, you will probably already have a pretty good idea of your main and your supporting points.

Ideas begin bubbling as you take notes. You begin to notice patterns and discern the bigger and the smaller ideas. 

But this step is designed specifically for you to go over your notes and write down two things:

  1. The main idea you’ll probably turn into the main point in your essay
  2. Three or more supporting ideas

Here is how to do it in practice. All you need to do is create a simple bulleted list. In this list, the first one or more items will be the bigger ideas. And the second level will contain the smaller, supporting ideas. 

Let’s do it, using our example of the Beast:

  • The Beast’s role in delivering the message of the story 
  • The Beast’s transformation – he must conquer his own anger in order to win
    • His flaws
      • He is under a magic spell (a curse)
      • He has serious anger issues
      • He seems very possessive
    • His physical appearance
      • He is scary
      • He is clumsy
    • Strengths and special abilities
      • He has enormous physical strength 
      • He is generous deep inside 
      • He can be gentle
    • Psychological makeup
      • He lacks self-confidence
      • He doubts his ability to experience love
      • He has great difficulty controlling his anger

As you complete this step, don’t worry if some of your ideas overlap among these categories or if you seem to repeat some of the points. You’ll sort it all out and get total clarity in the next step.

These first steps are really a brain dump. In Step 3, you simply sift through your initial notes and attempt to bring some order your thoughts. Don’t try to be perfect. Just do it.

Step 4. Take a stand and write down your main point

This is where you must decide on what exactly you’ll be arguing in your essay. This is why it’s probably the most important step of all. Your main point is your thesis. 

A thesis is one main idea usually expressed in one sentence. 

A thesis statement is a full statement that contains the entire argument, including the thesis and the supporting ideas. 

Here’s a short video I made to explain the distinction between a thesis and a thesis statement:

In this step, we’re just writing out the main point in one sentence. We’ll write the entire thesis statement in the next step. 

And we have everything we need to write our sample thesis. We have identified the biggest ideas and the smaller, supporting ideas in the previous step.

Now, we need to focus on the bigger ideas, choose one of them or put two of them together into one, and write it down.

Let’s do it, using our example of the Beast. 

Character Analysis Thesis Example

Let’s think aloud a little:

We have our two big ideas that we identified in the previous step:

  • The Beast’s role in delivering the message of the story 
  • The Beast’s transformation – he must conquer his own anger in order to regain the human form

These are just topics; they are only subjects. We must now turn them into one complete sentence. 

It looks like the Beast must overcome something within himself in order to be human again. 

Can we be a little more specific? We can borrow an idea or two from the supporting, smaller ideas to clarify the main point.

Well, the Beast is cursed, and to lift the curse, he must overcome himself. 

Okay, good. We’re getting there. Let’s add a little more specificity, and the thesis should come out great.

“The Beast must overcome his own anger, lack of compassion, and self-doubt in order to experience love that would lift the curse and turn him back into a human.” 

Bingo! I think we got it. This thesis is virtually flawless:

  • The subject is clear – the essay will be about the Beast
  • We know exactly what to say about him 
  • The reader now has a clear idea of the overall argument of this essay
  • This sentence summarizes this essay completely and perfectly.

And that’s exactly what a thesis for a character analysis is supposed to do. Now, we’re ready to write the introductory paragraph which will include the complete thesis statement. 

Step 5. Write the introductory paragraph

Note that a character analysis is really an expository essay. This means that the structure of a character analysis is that of an expository (or an argumentative) essay.

And here is a diagram that depicts the structure of an introductory paragraph:

The first sentence is purely introductory. Its job is to pull the reader into the subject matter of the essay.

The next sentence is the main point. And we just wrote it, so we have this most important part of the paragraph ready to include in the opening paragraph.

Finally, the next one or more sentences must list the supporting points in some detail while still keeping the paragraph very general. That’s because we’ll be digging into the details in the body of the essay. But the intro paragraph should be general. 

Before we get to the introductory sentence, let’s see if we have everything we need to write the rest of the thesis statement. Do we have the supporting points?

It just so happens that our thesis contains three wonderful supporting points that we’ll explore in the essay in detail. Why three?

Well, I usually recommend having three supporting ideas that will correspond with three main sections of pretty much any argumentative paper. I call this the Power of Three:

Why do I use it? Remember what we did in Steps 2 and 3? We listed all the elements of our character and enumerated all the possible ideas we could write about. 

Well, if we don’t set a limit for how many supporting ideas we’ll use, we can end up wandering forever, trying to structure this essay. 

If you go over three supporting points, then the overall structure of the essay won’t be clear to you, and you’ll waste a lot of time and effort trying to organize it.

But if you decide that you’ll have three supporting ideas – no more and no less – this makes your life so much easier. All you need to do is decide. And it’s easy – the Power of Three works!

As I was writing the main point, I already kept the Power of Three in mind because, after all, I’m the one who came up with it 🙂

I use it in almost every essay and article I write, so at this point it’s just second nature to me and will become to you as well the more you use it. 

So, what are the three supporting ideas in this essay? Here they are:

  1. Anger
  2. Lack of compassion
  3. Self-doubt

These are three qualities, character traits, or emotional energies which the Beast must overcome in himself in order to experience love and achieve his goal of regaining humanity.

Do you see how this works? Now that we know exactly what we mean to say in the introductory paragraph, let’s write it out.

Example of a Character Analysis Introductory Paragraph

“Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is a story of a miraculous transformation that must be gained through hard work. The Beast must overcome his own lack of compassion, his anger, and self-doubt in order to experience love that would lift the curse and turn him back into a human. The lack of compassion caused the initial disaster, and the Beast must get in touch with his kindness and generosity to remove the root cause of the curse. He must learn to control his anger because if he doesn’t he won’t have a chance to win Belle’s heart. And he must overcome self-doubt as the final obstacle to true love because faith in love is its ultimate test.”

Let’s Examine this Paragraph

So, what have we done here? The first sentence, just like the diagram instructs, is introductory. It doesn’t state the main point – that’s the function of the next sentence, which is the thesis.

The first sentence simply pulls the reader into the essay by stating what it is about in very general terms. We could have written an intro that would be even more general. But this sentence works. 

Remember – you can actually start your essay directly with the thesis. The only reason I teach my students to include an introductory sentence is that teachers and professors expect some sort of an introduction. So, just write it.

But immediately after the intro, we need to state the thesis – the main point. And we do it perfectly well in this paragraph. We wrote this sentence in the previous step, so we know exactly what it states.

Finally, and this is part three of the paragraph, we enumerate the three supporting points that help the reader see how we plan to go about supporting the main point.

We first talk about the lack of compassion, then about the Beast’s anger, and then about his self-doubt. And guess what – that’s exactly how we’ll structure this essay. 

In fact, our thesis statement is the outline of our essay. Let’s take a look. 

Character Analysis Sample Outline

As you can see, we have three main sections, each of which can be a paragraph or more, depending on how many words you need to write.

If you have to write up to about 600 words, then a five-paragraph structure will work great. If you have to write more, then each of the main sections will simply contain more than one paragraph.

But let’s keep things simple here and assume that we’re writing a five-paragraph essay of about 600 words. Then, we can distribute our word count this way:

  1. Introductory paragraph (75 words)
  2. Body paragraph 1 (150 words)
  3. Body paragraph 2 (150 words)
  4. Body paragraph 3 (150 words)
  5. Conclusion (75 words) 

If we add these up, we’ll get 600 words. Now that we have our introductory paragraph that has given us the main point and the overall structure, we’re ready to write the body of the essay.

Step 6. Write the body of the analysis

The body of a character analysis essay consists of paragraphs of a particular structure. Because we know that an analysis is an argumentative essay, each body paragraph should be structured in a certain way. 

Here’s a diagram of how to structure a body paragraph:

A body paragraph in an expository essay, just like the essay itself, must proceed from general to specific. 

The first sentence in a body paragraph is the lead sentence. It is the most general sentence in the paragraph. It functions just like a thesis does in an essay – it opens and summarizes the contents of the paragraph perfectly.

Then comes the next most general part of the paragraph – the explanation. Here, you should explain a process or describe how or why the point in the lead sentence is true. 

And finally, we have the most specific part of the paragraph, which is one or more examples. Examples are the most interesting and exciting part both for the writer and for the reader because they contain all the details.

Let’s write a body paragraph for our essay. We’ll pick the first body paragraph – the one about the lack of compassion in the Beast.

Character Analysis Body Paragraph Example

“Since the lack of compassion caused the witch to cast the spell, the Beast must discover kindness and generosity within himself to eliminate the root cause of the curse. His lack of kindness and compassion is his original sin. The animated movie opens with a sequence that reveals what happened to the prince that led to him losing his human form. An old woman asked for shelter from the rain, but the prince mocked her and refused her request. She then turned into a beautiful sorceress and punished him by casting a spell, condemning the prince to the form of a beast until he can experience reciprocated love. Unfortunately for him, the Beast retains the lack of compassion well into the middle of the story. He becomes enraged when he has another visitor – Belle’s father – while the weather outside is horrible. This echoes the initial refusal of shelter. He does the same with Belle when he gives her a number of prohibitions. He refuses her food and comfort unless she meets certain conditions. In other words, it looks like he has not learned a thing since the spell was cast.”

Body Paragraph Analysis

What have we done in this paragraph? First, we started with the lead sentence. The way you can write it is just by lifting it straight from the thesis statement and changing it around. 

That’s because the lead sentence is essentially an equivalent of one of the supporting points in the thesis statement. Just take that supporting point, change or expand it a little, and it will make a perfect lead sentence for a body paragraph.

Next, we provide an explanation. We explain why it is necessary for the Beast to conquer his lack of compassion. This was the reason he came under the spell. 

So, he must learn from that experience and eliminate this character trait. If he fails to do that, he’ll never gain Belle’s love and will never turn back into a human. 

Finally, we show that the Beast seemingly hasn’t learned a thing because he shows no hospitality or kindness to Belle and her father in the beginning. This means that he has a problem he must overcome. 

Once we’ve shown this, the paragraph has served its function, and we can move on to the next paragraph. 

To write the body of the essay, all we need to do is write it one body paragraph at a time, following the structure in the diagram. Once this is done, we’re ready for the final step. 

Step 7. Write the conclusion

The simplest and time-proven way to write a conclusion is to restate what you already wrote. In a sense, your conclusion is pretty much your thesis statement rewritten using different words.

Let’s write out our conclusion, and you’ll see what I mean:

“To conclude, the Beast is a prisoner of his own character flaws. His lack of kindness and compassion, his rage, and his self-doubt stand in his way of dispelling the curse and becoming human again. Early in the story, he displays each of these character flaws as if he never learned his lessons from what happened to him. And he must overcome each of these traits one by one in order to get in touch with the best in him, experience love, and achieve liberation from the terrible spell.”

As you can see, we’re not saying anything new here. We’re simply restating what has already been said in the essay. And it works in most cases. 

Some instructors will want you to do more in a conclusion. So, my advice is to approach your instructor and ask her what she prefers. This way you’ll know for sure. 

If you want to learn more ways to write conclusions, here’s a great tutorial I wrote

Guess what – we’re done, and I hope this was helpful! Now go ahead and write your own amazing character analysis essay.


Tutor Phil

Tutor Phil

Tutor Phil is an e-learning professional who helps adult learners finish their degrees by teaching them academic writing skills.

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