There is at present no theoretical framework that captures the processes involved in literary characterisation. In this paper, I focus on the issue of how and when people infer information about character from a text. Drawing upon work in social psychology, I assess and compare two attribution theories, both of which are designed to explain how we infer aspects of personality in real life situations. In particular, I highlight the apparent mutual incompatibility of these theories. In order to strengthen their theoretical position, I describe how these theories are analogous in particular ways with foregrounding theory, a theory which addresses issues to do with literary interpretation. In drawing this analogy, I demonstrate how the two attribution theories might be reconciled. Finally, I consider the operation of attribution theory in literary texts and demonstrate its power as a descriptive and explanatory framework.