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Teacher Tips and Answers

Prewriting for Character Analyses

Did you ever sit down and stare at a blank screen and think, "I have no idea what to write about"? Prewriting helps you know what to write about. During prewriting, you gather ideas, think, plan, outline, scribble, and do whatever else you need to do so that you do know what to write about. These activities will help you fill that blank screen.

Prewriting for a Writing Topic

The first step in analyzing characters in literature is to select a story or novel-length work to analyze. You need to think about literature that you have recently read and decide which selection you would most like to write about. Next, you need to identify characters in the work. Creating a cluster can help you think about literature and characters.

Character Cluster

Think about literature and characters.

Think about literary works you have recently read, write three titles near the middle of a piece of paper, and circle each title. Join them with lines. Then for each piece of literature, think of important characters you could analyze and join them to the appropriate title. Finally, decide which character or characters you would like to focus on for your analysis.

Prewriting to Analyze a Character

In the warm-up activity, you analyzed a person you know and like. Now you can use the same process to analyze a character in literature. You need to get to know the person, which means carefully reading passages that involve the character—in effect spending time, watching movements, thinking about motives, listening to what the person says. . . . To write an effective character analysis, you should be able to describe the person physically and psychologically, telling what the person most wants and fears. You can fill out a sheet like this to get started.

George Wilson, from The Great Gatsby

Physical Traits




































Mental Traits










































What does this person want? What will the person do to get it?

He wants to be successful like Tom Buchannan. He also wants to hold onto what he has, which currently means his beautiful wife Myrtle, whom Tom is seducing away from him.

What does this person fear? What will the person do to overcome it?

He most fears losing his wife. He also fears being stuck in the "Valley of Ashes," working hard but always living without money or hope for the future.

Analyze characters in literature.

Choose one or more characters from your literary work. For each character, complete a beginning analysis using the categories above. Write down what the person wants and fears and the actions the person will take because of those motivations. Make a copy of this Google doc or download a Word template.

Prewriting to Gather Evidence from Literature

Now that you have thought about your character, you need to spend some time gathering evidence from the literature to support your belief about the person. Most times, you will present evidence in the form of a paraphrase, using your own words to describe a person, situation, conflict, action, or theme. When the author has captured an idea especially well, you will want to quote exact words, noting the page number. You can create a gathering grid like the one that follows in order to collect evidence:

Evidence about George Wilson, from The Great Gatsby

Physical Traits

Psychological Traits

"He was a blonde, spiritless man, anæmic and faintly handsome." (29)

Myrtle and George fight, and she runs out in the road and is hit by Gatsby's yellow car, driven by Daisy. (Chapter 7)

"When he saw us, a damp gleam of hope sprang into his blue eyes." (25)

George hunts down the yellow car and shoots Gatsby in his pool. (Chapter 8)

Gather evidence.

Search through the literature, carefully reading passages that contain your key character or characters. Gather information about the person's physical traits and psychological traits using a sheet like the one above. Make a copy of this Google doc or download a Word template.

Teaching Tip

Help students understand that they should use quotations only when the original words capture an idea succinctly and powerfully. Students should paraphrase most of their evidence, and when they do include quotations, they should explain them instead of just "plunking" them in their analyses.

Prewriting to Create a Thesis Statement

After gathering evidence about your character(s), you should write a working thesis statement to focus your thinking. The thesis statement should name one or more characters and connect them to one or more major themes of the work.

Write a thesis statement.

Write down the character(s) you will analyze and the main theme(s) you will connect to. Then combine both into a single sentence that expresses your thesis. Make a copy of this Google doc or download a Word template.





Thesis Statement

George Wilson


class endangers the American Dream


George Wilson struggles against his wife, Gatsby, and God, thereby allowing Fitzgerald to explore themes of secrets, class, and the American Dream.

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