I was looking through my gathered documents on writing last night – gathered from various classes I’d taken. I found one on conflict that seemed to make an impression. I don’t remember who gave the talk, so unfortunately I can’t give proper credit for the wisdom.
I define a “value” as a “core truth” for a character which can be phrased in this form:
“Nothing is more important than ________.”
A “value” is any word or phrase your character would use to fill in the blank. Most characters will have several values. Good characters will have several conflicting values.
Fiction is about making hard choices between conflicting values.
So characters have more than one value, and often those values don’t mesh, and that gives the story conflict.
For example, Joe the EMT (and why am I always using “Joe” as a name?) has three things.
For Joe, nothing is more important than saving lives. Nothing is more important than providing for his daughter. Nothing is more important than supporting his rugby teammates.
So, rugby teamwork, daughter, and saving lives. How could they conflict?
If Joe is injured playing rugby, then he can’t work/save lives, and which would make him unable to make a paycheck and provide for his daughter. Or, if Joe failed to save the live of his teammate, he not only let his teammates down, but he could loose confidence in his abilities, and that could affect providing for his daughter.
I guess there’s a ranking there. Providing for the daughter is number one, then teammates, then saving lives.
The example that the teacher gave was from The Hunger Games, and of course it made sense because the book is well written and things are straight forward.
I guess the character’s values would have to be in relation to some over all story goal. So if Joe the EMT has some overall story goal, then his values of daughter, saving lives, and teamwork could be more finely tuned.
Joe has to go to work and so do I. That’s a value isn’t it?