My Three Adjectives

Photo Courtesy of peretzpups
In my last post, I discussed my mother's belief that everyone should have a personal mission statement to help guide them through life. I subscribe to this theory--both in my personal and writing life--and I think of my literary mission statement every time I juggle around a new story idea. 

In my personal life, I am also guided by three adjectives. A number of years ago, I got it in my head that I needed to come up with a list of the three words I would like people to use when they describe me at my funeral. (Not sure if I came up with this idea myself or if I was inspired by some outside influence.)

I figured the best way to get from the person I was to the person I wanted to be was to focus on these words and then craft myself around them. (If I wanted people to say I was unselfish, I should start acting that way; if I wanted people to say I was well-read, I should start reading, etc.) After much brainstorming, I came up with these three words:


This was probably back in 2003, and I haven't looked back since. Although it is a continuous struggle to live up to these adjectives, I am a lot closer to them now than I was nine years ago. And nine years from now, I hope to be even closer.

I'm telling you this for a couple of reasons:

#1. If you have never sat down and thought about your three adjectives, I highly encourage you to try it. There are no right answers, and it's amazing which aspects of your personality will surface. (My hubby's three words are Genuine, Loyal and Passionate. Definitely married a good one... ;))

#2. Which three words would the main characters in your stories choose? Their adjectives will tell you a wealth of information about them; the words will also help you shape their character arcs as they move from the people they are to the people they want to be.

I have to confess, I didn't think about this until after I'd completed my latest project, a YA adventure called ESSENCE. But when I went back and plugged in my adjectives, I realized I'd subconsciously known my two main characters' adjectives all along. I'm sure you will feel the same way, but you may still be surprised which words make it to the top of your charactes' lists.

Allow me to demonstrate. Here is ESSENCE's pitch:

Neutrality is the key to longevity.

This is the only truth seventeen year-old Autumn Marsh has ever known. She lives under the control of San Francisco’s cult-like Centrist Movement—a new spirituality that claims emotional experiences lead to Essence drain and early death.

Autumn has learned to suppress her feelings, but her younger brother’s death brings her faith into question. While illegally sprinting through a condemned park, she encounters Ryder Strong—a free-spirited Outsider who claims Essence drain is nothing more than a Centrist scare tactic. From his headquarters in the abandoned remains of Yosemite National Park, he says he can prove it.

Joining Ryder’s community means abandoning her family, giving up her identity and forsaking everything she has ever believed in, but Autumn is determined to find the truth—even if she risks losing herself in the process.

Okay, so my two main characters are Autumn Marsh and Ryder Strong. Here's what their words tell us about them:

Honest, Brave Capable

Loyal, Competent, Just

Both of these characters have a LONG way to go to reach their adjectives, and their growth is the crux of my story. So now that I know what they want, I can make sure to emphasize this while they grow.

Along those lines, sometimes it's fun to give our characters personal mission statements, too. In ESSENCE, Autumn's mission statement is "to stay true to myself while realigning my values, uncovering the truth about Essences and becoming part of Ryder's community."

Ryder's mission statement is "to follow in my father's footsteps and become a competent leader of the Community while pushing myself to disprove the Essence theory."

As you can see, both characters will spend a good deal of time "pushing themselves" during the novel. Although they may lose sight of their mission statements from time to time, their drive lies in the fulfillment of these goals. Whether they succeed or fail is the climax of the novel.

Anyone else wanna plug in your characters? (Or yourselves??)