When you look at the photo above, how do you feel?
Happy? Justified? Angry? Bemused? Bored? Exasperated?
This photo, and many like it, have been circulating on social media for the last nine days. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find that there are many people amongst us who are sick of seeing it by now — nine days is a long time in the world of the internet. But, for others, feelings of rage or exuberance will continue every time they see an image like this.
Why? Because the image, and all it represents, hits them right where they live: in their Values and Beliefs.
Characters have beliefs, too
I’m not just talking about beliefs about same-sex marriage, but about a character’s core beliefs about themselves, the world, and their place in it. Those beliefs may be religious, spiritual, or moral. And, often, they’re all of the above.
Understanding our characters’ values and beliefs is key to understanding how they feel, how they react to the outside world, and what they will do when placed in a situation that either enforces or threatens those beliefs.
I’ve often read manuscripts where I’ve reached the end of the story and still found myself wondering what the protagonist really believes. And, much more often than that, I’ve found myself wondering what the antagonist really believes. As Keith Cronin wrote in his article back in May:
Most bad guys do not think of themselves as bad guys. They just have differing desires and motivations than the protagonist.
[pullquote]Understanding our characters’ values and beliefs is key to understanding how they feel, how they react to the outside world, and what they will do when placed in a situation that either enforces or threatens those beliefs.[/pullquote]
Understanding the antagonist’s beliefs and values is an integral part of writing a story that readers connect with.
Nobody believes anything in general
To paraphrase the ever-amazing Lisa Cron: “Nobody does anything in general.” When talking about values and beliefs, it’s important to look at the specifics of that belief.