Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Your Character In One Word

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and the soon-to-be-released The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.

I'm fascinated by the ways people perceive themselves. Sometimes people have a really good grasp on who they are. They know their strengths and flaws, and they don't mind talking about either.

I also know people who pour tons of energy into building an image they can project, that they seem to buy into as well. Like coworkers I had at my old office, who knew how to appear busy and hard-working, and who even seemed to fool themselves.

And then I know people who, for various reasons, don't see themselves clearly at all. I've had friends who will tell me they're horrible at entertaining when they regularly throw the best parties. Or like my sister-in-law who tells me she's horrible with kids...then spends an hour playing hide-and-seek with my children, who completely adore her.

What about your characters? How would they describe his or herself in one word or phrase? Do they see themselves clearly or no?

My new book, The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet, releases in one week. (You can get a little preview and read the first chapter on my website.) Here are a few words and phrases my characters would use to describe who they are at the start of the story:
Ellie: Invisible
Palmer: In control.
Chase: Bad news.
Lucy: The life of the party.
Bianca: Second best.
Karen: Aimless
Over the course of a story, your characters' word or phrase should be put to the test. Like in The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet, Ellie will have times where she'll feel invisible, times when she wishes she were invisible, times when she has to admit she's not invisible, etc.

With a villain or antagonist, sometimes that descriptor doesn't get revealed until the end, when they let it slip and the reader gets a great moment of clarity and understanding.

Try picking a handful of your characters and listing how they would describe who they are. If you feel like it, share your list below!


  1. Here's my three main characters. It's harder than it looks.

    Beth: passionate
    Anna: life-saver
    George: analytic

  2. Love this!

    Milo: Puppet
    Micah: Never makes mistakes
    Indie: Useless
    Atticus: Indestructible

    1. Just wanted to say your characters have really cool names. :)

    2. Atticus? Just like from to kill a mockingbird (reading that book in school)
      I love that name!

    3. Yes! I LOVE the book and, well, I love the name.

      Thanks guys! :) That's really encouraging!

  3. This is great!

    Wade: Left behind
    Hauk: Unwanted
    Glenn: prepared
    Malek: keeper

  4. Eric: Sinner
    Lydia: useless
    Grassa: perfect
    Harold: missing Roddy

  5. Love it!
    Keyden: Worried
    Jemma: Trying
    Marrin: Confident
    Jammeand: Tough Guy
    Thanks Stephanie for another thought provoking post!
    ~Sarah Faulkner

  6. Jessica: Barricaded
    Elena: culture pleasing
    Jake: Protector
    Taylor: self supported
    Grace: Anchor
    Kaylee: Innocent

  7. Hmmmm. This'll require a bit of thought. I can't figure them out at the moment...I'll try later!

    1. Hope (MC): A different normal
      Makayla: Left out
      Madison: Leader
      Jessie: The queen

      Those are just a few of the main-ish characters. :)

      Oh, and random update: My first draft is nearing done, and I'm soooo excited! I know the final story will be much longer, though, because it feels like there's so much of the middle of the story that's missing. :)

    2. a different normal? that's awesome!

    3. Thanks :D I loved how that came out.

  8. Hmm..
    Let's see...
    Alastair: conflicted
    Breindel: unloved
    Tinsley: survivor
    Simperer: untouchable

  9. Wow! How characters see themselves in one word? This is going to be great.

    MC: Insufficient
    Hanna: Independent
    Eric: Looked down on

  10. This is a great way to analyze one's characters! Thanks for posting!
    Here are a few of my characters (from a three different WIPs):

    Peder: easygoing and dependable
    Jaron: calm
    Safia: doesn't belong
    Chess: independent

    I'm currently posting a short series featuring Peder and Jaron on my personal blog. If interested, please check it out! Helpful criticism is welcome. =]

    1. What's a "WIP"?
      Sorry, I'm new at this!
      (I love the characters' names, by the way!)

    2. Nicole, WIP stands for "work in progress." I'm glad you asked :)

    3. Oh...thank you! "Work In Progress"...I'll have to remember that!
      Thank you, Ms. Morrill!

  11. What a great post, Stephanie. I love this idea!

    Birdie: worthless
    Amos: failure
    Ky: protector

  12. Awesome post! Here are a few characters of mine. :)

    Elric: Not good enough.

    Anya: Secretive

    Samantha: Broken

    Richard: Kind

    Megan: Unsure

    Alanna: Happy

    These come from three different stories. :)

  13. Wow, this is kind of hard! I have 1-3 words for each character, and I can't choose!

    Lexi: Independent, Tough Girl, or Know-it-All
    Andif: No Humanity, Ruthless, or Crazy
    Ash: Sidekick
    Suri: Invisible
    Krale: Manipulator
    Dandin: Misguided or Betrayer
    Jayden: Misguided, Giant Secret, or Untrustworthy
    Charity: Cheerful
    Zang: Responsible
    Kyra: Wisdom or Friend

    Thanks for the fun post, good exercise for my brain!

  14. Wow, you guys have some awesome character names! :D

  15. Was anybody surprised by the word that came to mind? When I came up with Bianca's, I was surprised to discover that she felt like second-best.

    1. I was surprised with Tinsley's word. She is slightly off her rocker, and I didn't realize that she saw herself as a survivor. It was fun trying to get into her head!

  16. Anya: Noble, the hero
    Ronald: Loyal
    James: The funny one
    Jane: Ditzy, kind
    The king (Atticus): Fatherly
    Lional: Evil, the murderer

  17. Ooh, what a brilliant idea! I should do this to all my characters in their personality profiles. Now for some random characters from random stories...

    Cactus: Sensitive
    Arranae: Optimistic/Hopeful
    Saoirse: Fighter
    Hugh: Resident Brainiac
    Rhaenne: Princess (like, Queen) and Pawn // Manipulated

    Sometimes, I also write a paragraph from my characters' POV. I found it helps get to know who they are in their own perspective.

    1. Can I just say, your characters have the best names I've ever seen. For real.

    2. I really love that Catcus is sensitive. These are really unique names

  18. Oooooh, this was a hard one. I guess my top five would be:

    Mira: Still a child
    Alia: Fiery
    Corrin: Quiet pain
    Teveon: Desperate
    Jianna: The white dove

  19. Hmmmm...

    Clara: Afraid to disappoint (what automatically comes to mind...what is most accurate, at least for what I'm writing right now. If you want one word, "quiet" or "delicate" or "gentle" would also work)
    Samuel: Devoted
    Jericho: Warrior
    Elliott: Bitter
    Ginger: Joyful
    Chrissy: Light
    Eleni: Confident
    Helene: Wild
    Florence: Kind
    Merelei: Cold

    Yay! I got almost all of them into one word! Clara really has to overcome that fear of disappointing people, and it's an internal struggle for a lot of the first book. So it doesn't define her the whole time, which is why I added the other single words below, because she is a very quiet and gentle person.

    Very fun exercise! :) <3
    Sierra @ Yearning to Read

  20. This is great! My MC was easy because the book (and title) are based on her change, but the others were harder and fun!

    Kate: Freak
    Lissa: Lonely (Wow, that's a surprise! Oh, so that's why......)
    Michael: Supportive

  21. Savita: insecure
    Alian: sympathetic
    Alteco: bad (not that creative ;-)
    Mr. Sendito: generous

  22. Fun :)

    Reuel ... Confident
    Eladriel ... Unsure
    Ambryna ... Icy
    Volum ... Flirt

    This is cool!

    1. Hannah, I love your character's names! They sound awesome; like a story I would want to read! (You like Tolkien, don't you... ;) )

    2. I know I like Tolkien... one of my favorite authors, especially in the fantasy genre:)


    3. Haha same here! Best author EVERRRRRRRR!! (Well, I think so...) Oh, and Layla, I think it's really cool how you're doing a story involving Merlin. My two favorite topics are Middle-Earth and Arthurian legend! :D

    4. Two of my favorite topics, too! In my book you get to meet some of the knights and (maybe) King Arthur! Glad you like the idea:)


    5. Haha, answering this months later. . .Tolkien is my favorite author :) Reuel is named after him. I wish Eladriel's name wasn't so close to Galadriel's, but I was not very creative at the time I got her name, so I just did that. . .and now I don't have the heart to change it!

    6. Go Tolkinites!! One author to rule them all!

  23. Hmmmm... this might take some thinking...

    Nimueh: Twisted (yeah, I guess, since it was someone else who made her "bad")
    Merlin: Kind and confused
    Morgana:Pure evil
    Wow! Some if those were big surprises! Thanks for such a creative and helpful post!
    (By the way, can anyone tell what my books about from my main characters?;))


    1. Correct. Oh, and for Merlin I meant to put betrayed:/


    2. *thrilled gasp* You're doing something set in Arthurian legend?? Amazinggggg!!! Great idea! :DDDDDD

    3. Yep! Glad you like it:) <3 <3 <3 And I actually no someone who can publish my book. When it's done I'll be sure that you get a copy:)


    4. Yay! I can't wait! I love books..... ;)

  24. Btw: Love your first chapter! Especially the sentence: 'It seems Chase Cervantes is trying to give me plenty of inspiration.' made me laughing. Can't wait to read the whole book!

    1. How do you pronounce your name, by the way? Just curious :)

    2. Ehm, how do I have to explain that? 'Aa'(English people pronounce it like the first 'a' in 'amazing', but in Dutch it's more like the 'a'in 'naam' (name) or 'staart'(tail), 'r' is clear I think, although we pronounce it here a bit more like a Scottisch 'r'. 'e' is like the 'e' in 'Loretta' (to pick a name). 'n' and 'd' are clear, I suppose. Last 'e' is like the 'e'in 'the'. So: aa-r-e-n-d-u. Arende.
      I know it's a difficult name, my parents should have given me a more international one...;-) My last name is just 'the White', translated in English.
      Does this make any sense?

    3. Thank you! And I think your name is beautiful :)

  25. Cool post!

    Bryce: Enduring
    Caleb: Lacking confidence
    Pro: Independent
    Jeff: Obsessive
    Judah: Manipulative
    Dom: Weasel
    Rich: Uncaring
    Reuben: Cruel

    1. That "weasel" one made me laugh, Victoria!

  26. This is so cool!! Ok... But also very hard... Hrm...

    Alyssa: Walking oxymoron
    Eric: haunted/guilty
    Morgan: bubbly
    Jake: rationally irrational
    Jeff: self-absorbed
    Courtney: shrill
    Uncle D: idealistic
    Walden: sadistic
    Amber: tormented

    That was tough; I think I kind of cheated. Believe it or not, by main two (Alyssa and Eric) were the hardest. Kind of like how it's hard to get a clear view of yourself, I guess, because you're too close. You can't see the full picture. I remember someone here (was it you, Alyson?) mentioned how they did a self portrait which they weren't satisfied with because they can see what's not right more than anyone else because they're so close to the project... I don't know how to describe it any better than that, but yeah. It made sense in my head. If I could pick three words for each I'd add "hypocritical" and "smart yet blind" to Alyssa, and "caring" and "self-doubting" to Eric.

    1. Yeah, I think it was Alyson who said that. Makes perfect sense.

    2. Alyssa is a walking oxymoron? I like that! (It made me smile) :D Keep up the good work!

  27. Umm....let me see...

    Finley: Determined
    Tallon: Self-inflicted solitude
    Zane: Jokester
    Anilisa: Compassionate
    Gwendolai: Burdened by knowledge
    Roxana: Innocent

    And in my other WIP...

    Risatani: Strong (world-on-your-shoulders strong, not phsyically)
    Gaelan: Valiant and selfless
    Hesperia: Quiet
    Xanthias: Fighting against the darkness

    Ok, I kind of cheated. They weren't all one word. But they still fit!

  28. Sounds like a fun idea, here are a few of mine

    Oceana: Mystery
    Chandler: Independant
    Callum: Loyal
    Stephanie: Repressed
    Beth: Broken

  29. Coltan - Desperate
    Acelina - Self-confident
    Donnelly - Compassionate
    Riha - Believing
    Iris - action-taker
    Graham - Stronghold
    Rashawn - Thoughtless
    Maddok - discretely powerful

  30. This is hard! I can think of plenty of phrases, but all the words I think of have "it works but..." moments. Thanks for the challenge!

    Avery: unfailingly loyal (independent is really the first that comes to mind, except she'd really rather die than leave Oliver, so I think loyal fits well too)
    Oliver: optimist
    Crow: leader
    Adam: brave
    Colby: betrayer
    Eloise: strong

  31. Awesome!

    Lilli: People pleaser
    Viola: Loyal
    Gibraltar: Wise
    Danrik: Mysterious
    Sage: Arrogant
    Madrin: Friendly
    Dandelion: Innocent

    I'm writing a story set in the medieval times. It's really fun writing it :D

  32. Ahh, here it goes!

    Hazel:Strong, yet gentle
    Ryker:Anger mixed with jelousy

    Thanks for the post!


  33. Rose: driven
    Ashley: the conscience
    Nameless: lost
    Archer: guilty
    Monday: relentless and triumphant
    Max: alone

    (Rose and Ashley are two personalities inside the Nameless girl's mind, which is why she feels lost)

  34. Neat idea. I had fun figuring my characters out. It helps that I was just explaining them to my brother. ;)

    Heather: Cautious
    Bryce: Protective
    Rayford: Devoted
    Reed: Patriotic
    Miss Lucinda: Confidant

  35. Thanks for the post! This was so much fun!
    Zach- misfit
    Junie- open
    Tripp- cool
    Gryphon- misunderstood
    Leslie- outgoing
    Nina- innocent

  36. That's so cool! I never thought of doing that . . . hmmmm.

    Fire: Dangerous
    Xander: Thoughtful
    Petrov: Full of vengeance
    Graven: Confidant
    Adrik: cocky

    Thanks so much for the post! I love posts that really make me think!

  37. Corinne: Untalented
    Laura: Grateful
    Jack: Anxious

    By the way, your first chapter is really great! I can't wait until the book releases.

  38. Okay... This is a LOT harder than it sounds...

    Purcy: Lost and Alone (okay I know it's more than one word but...)
    Felone:In charge
    Caturah: A Monster
    Meow-Chen: Laid back

    Okay I wan to try this with some of my other characters

    Khora: Average
    Rhyan: Overprotective
    Erim: Distant
    Casticor: A Ruler or King

    Okay this is REALLY FUN... I could go on forever but I won't

  39. Ooh, I never would've thought this is so hard, especially that the Polish names are confusing me when trying to write English words. Anyway, here it goes:

    Fryderyk: mom's little boy
    Dawid: brave coward
    Kazimiera: confusing
    Boleslaw: lovestruck
    Katarzyna: scheming
    Ewa: always around


  40. Hmmmmm, lets see....

    Tess: Curious
    Archer: Secretive
    Jasmine: eager
    Alanna: Beautiful

  41. I love the idea! Kinda hard though...
    (name still pending, I took your Giraffe idea and used a sort-of-the-same-idea for the name) Xavier:Loyal
    At the moment those are my main ones :) It's a great kinda gives a feel to that character and really makes you think about what they are and what they think they are on a whole.

  42. Rani: (in)Dependent
    Amity: Courageous
    Hardy: Humble


  43. Spenser: broken
    Levi: healing
    Father: Atoning
    Lanie: falling
    Juan: Oblivious
    Kristina: Trapped

    Er... some of these are verbs. XD

  44. Spade: sheltered
    Stratus: rebellious
    Judah: divinity
    Tide: shallow
    Till: blinded
    Ember: empathetic
    Sawyer: badass
    Eyas: vengeful
    Daisy: pure

    from my latest finished dystopian novel, The Towers. Waiting to hear back from the publishers as we speak!

  45. Love this. Don't have all my characters yet, but for the ones I do have.

    FMC Allie: Insecure but kind and gentle. Sorry, she just couldn't be one word. She kept pulling at my brain, telling me she was not just insecure.
    MMC Jay: Loyal
    Matchitehew: Confused
    Eris: Evil
    Abduxel: Pure Evil
    Abner: Strong, both ways.
    Chandur: Gentle, he's a dragon. Don't know if he counts. : /
    I only made up the name Chandur, by the way.

  46. So I was kinda bad at this, but I tried:

    Arnia: Devoted
    Peregrine: Afraid
    Willem: Trying to forget (couldn't think of one word that means that)
    Faro: Clown
    Arvid: Many-sided
    Minka: Under the radar
    Faylinn: Fierce
    Hethra: Power-hungry
    Not yet named bad guy: Ambitious

    I feel like Arnia is really understated with this word, though. But even so I feel like I know so much more about my characters from one little word, almost as if I know their true names. Arvid and Minka were hard because they are based off my to best friends in real life and I will not pretend I know enough by half to say their true, one-word essences.

  47. Thanks for a great post! I tried your technique on my characters:
    Luke: reckless
    Scarlett: honest
    Cobra: stubborn
    Saunders: wise
    Ophelia: manipulative
    Roxanne: calculating
    Randall: stoic
    Aria: loyal
    Valko: enigmatic

    I actually found that summing up my protagonist (Luke) in one word was really easy, but the supporting characters were much harder! I probably need to do more characterisation :P

  48. Ooohh, I want to try!
    Siena: Adventurer
    Jamie: Protector
    Desmond: Naiive/curious
    Bryce: Caring
    Emmeline: Loving

    1. I have a sienna! (but with two 'n's)

  49. Oh let's see....
    James: Ashamed
    Jason: Unsure
    Roger: Evil
    Sonya: Hurt

  50. Isabella: A handful
    Alice: Optimistic
    Grace: Determined/won't change her opinions(stubborn?)

  51. I know this is old, but I absolutely love this website. You have no idea how much it's been helping me in creating and developing my story. Thank you!
    Elise: creative
    Shay: protective
    Petra: emotional
    Anya: rogue

  52. Thank you! This is extremely helpful!
    Ivy: stuck
    Ignis: damaged
    Caius: logical
    Marina: experienced/scared
    Peter: torn
    Anastasia: adventurous/committed

  53. This has helped me get to know my characters a lot! Thank you! (some of these are technically phrases, but it works)

    Sienna: Seize the day!
    Ayla: quiet & shy
    Zora: Cheesy adventurer
    Audra: unique
    Caleb: beat down and belittled

    And in another story:

    Emberly: "different"
    Sarvi: calm and reasonable
    Trith: carried away

  54. Beatrix: Adventurous; unacknowledged.
    Nathaniel: All my fault!
    Abigale: Sun's always rising.