Character Values & Beliefs: The Foundation of Your Character | Barbara Vance | Skillshare

Character Values & Beliefs: The Foundation of Your Character

Barbara Vance, Author, Illustrator

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8 Lessons (39m) View My Notes
    • 1. Introduction

    • 2. Values and Their Role

    • 3. Investigating Values Getting Specific

    • 4. Beliefs Influence Values

    • 5. Values Create Conflict

    • 6. Bad Values

    • 7. Many Characters, Differing Values

    • 8. Practical Application


About This Class

A character's values and beliefs are the foundation on which all other traits rest. They dictate the choices your character makes, how she treats others, and what she says. To that end, establishing them before you begin writing will help you build three-dimensional, engaging characters who behave in a consistent, believable way throughout your story.

This class will set you on the path to real character discovery. We are going to look at

  1. Why outlining values and beliefs is important
  2. The difference between values and beliefs, and why you need both to craft a rich, relatable, three dimensional character.
  3. How to choose values and beliefs that deeply integrate with your plot for maximum dramatic impact
  4. How to really investigate each of your chosen character values so you get a deep understanding of how that trait is realized in your character – how does she demonstrate that trait in action and word?
  5. How to write values realistically so that your characters do not feel like flat superheroes. We want to create a character with believable inconsistencies between behavior and value so that she has greater depth and relatability


1. Introduction: Hi, everybody. My name is Barbara Vance, and welcome to this course all about creating three dimensional engaging characters. Specifically, today we're going to be focusing on writing your characters, values and beliefs because your characters, values and believes, are the things that undergird all of the other character traits that you will develop and the decisions that your characters will make. It is my joy to be here with you today. I have been teaching creative writing and strategic communications for many years to a variety of content developers. And the things that I'm bringing to you today are the fruit of all of that experience and knowing all of the hiccups and all of the challenges that students have. And so I'm very excited that we are going to be delving in this direction when we are designing our character's traits. We often already have a general idea of who she is. She shy lives with her mother and is a good students. We may even have a few specific features in our mind. She loves to ride horses, but what makes a character strong is when we begin our character design with a solid foundation and that Foundation is the thing out of which many other traits develop. This foundation consists in many ways off what values and beliefs that character holds. This not only helps drive the plot forward, it creates consistency and gives you dramatic material necessary to create genuine character change throughout your story. This is because values and beliefs are the things that undergird all of the decisions your characters will make. Your character may be a good student, but is it because she values good marks or because she values her father's approval when she gets them? That choice changes the direction of this story. This class will set you on the path to really character discovery. We're going to look at a number of things, including one. Why outlining values and beliefs is important, too, the difference between values and beliefs and why you need both to craft a rich, relatable, three dimensional character. Three. We will look at how to choose values and believes that deeply integrate with your plot from maximum dramatic impact. Fourth, we will look at how to really investigate each of your chosen characters values, so you get a deep understanding of how that trade is realized in your character. How does she demonstrate that trade in action and word five. We will look at how to write values realistically so that your characters do not sort of feel like flat superheroes. We want to create a character with believable inconsistencies between behavior and value, so that she has greater depth and relatability. I will give you actionable steps you can take to outline these things for your own characters so you'll be able to be well on your way to populating your story with people who grip your readers. If you enjoy this course, I encourage you to follow me on my other platforms. I'm on YouTube and Instagram. I would also hope that you could please leave a review on this course because it helps me make more courses for you, and it also helps inform your peers. Now. Then, let's begin by examining what values are and why they matter. 2. Values and Their Role: now, then what? Our values Values are things that matter to the character. It can be physical. I value my stamp collection or intangible. I value humility of value can be of great significance, like honor. Or it could be relatively small, like my favorite pair of sneakers. It is important to note that values are not virtues when we speak purely in terms of behaviour, as opposed to valuing sneakers, Values and principles are standards a person has. They may or may not be more or less universally admired and our subjective in nature. I might deeply value physical fitness, but that's me. And there are many people in society who would not regard that as an important thing or indicative of being a good person. Virtues, on the other hand, are qualities that are more or less universally considered admirable. They're less subjective, and they have a high moral value attached to them. Patience, humility would be virtues. Now they could also be vert values. Unlike, say, fitness, which is a value but not a virtue. Values can change over time. They are influenced by things like the culture. We grow up in our family, our age, social background or religion, while virtues are simply universally admired, traits their universally accepted. And although you will find that these universals virtues can differ across culture, generally speaking, their shared overall let's look at ancient Greece for an example. So in ancient Greece, the Athenian Greeks tended to value the arts and sciences and learning while their contemporaries Spartans valued athleticism and being battle ready. Their culture did not strive to advance in the arts and sciences, so virtues are the demonstration of values. So your choices your character makes as she moves through the plot are indicators of what she values. But those choices can be virtuous or not. For example, if my character values having the respect of her peers, she will demonstrate the virtues of teamwork, politeness, diligence and tolerance. And she'll work to have the best sales presentation of anyone on the team that month. Just like with flaws and strengths, you can benefit greatly from investigating a character's values. It's important to identify a character's values because they are the foundation on which almost all of her decisions are made. Ah, 40 year old woman whose primary value is family, is going to make different decisions than a 40 year old woman who is mostly committed to social justice. You could put either one of these women into a heist story, for example, but the choices they make will differ widely because of their values. This is why it is helpful to assess who are characters are before we write the story. Can you write the story without doing so? Absolutely. Will you discover new things about your characters, as you write most likely, but the better handle you have on her before you begin the more deeply and consistently you can write her into the story. Okay, in the next video, we're going to look at how once we have chosen values, we can mine them for an even deeper understanding of our character. Now, if you would like to work on your own character as you go through this course, then I recommend taking a break and completing questions one and two of the course worksheet in which you identify your characters values in broad terms. Once you have done this, you will then be ready to strategically think about those values 3. Investigating Values Getting Specific: Once you have identified a given value, you will want to get specific about what that value means to that character Now. Often, values can seem broad. So if you say, chatted with Sarah, a schoolteacher, and asked what one of her primary values waas? She might say. Knowledge. But what exactly does knowledge look like to her? There's book smart. And then there's life smart, and some people are better at classroom assignments and tests than others. How does she measure whether someone has attained knowledge? Why, in fact, is this what she values? Do you see how we can investigate the value? So what you want to do is press Sarah. We want to ask, What do you mean by education? And she might reply. Well, I was the first person in my family to go to university. My mother worked from maid service, and my father was a janitor. We didn't have a lot of money, but they saved, ended without so that I could go to school and have a better life. Certain skills is just more valued in society than others. My parents were good people and clean rooms matter, but no one in this Society considers that a skill that requires very much. It's entry level. You could teach anyone to do it, but learning, engineering or math from medicine. That knowledge is specialized and respected, so people will pay you mawr to do it. You have authority. You can live a nicer home and have respect. Then you don't have to live paycheck to paycheck the way my parents did. So what have we learned here? Sarah isn't talking about the personal satisfaction of learning. She isn't addressing how it made her a better person, although she may think these things. Her focus is on society well, power and comfortable living. The knowledge she is referring to is specifically tied to certain careers she believes will give a person more respect, wealth and authority. So do you see how investigating a character's values tells us about her? And from this investigation? It really tells us how she might behave in certain situations and with certain people. We learned quite a lot. Specifically, we can't see how Sarah has a certain value in this case knowledge and how she also has believes that in conjunction with those values, influence how she perceives and operates in the world. So let's now look at character beliefs, what they are and how they work, and then we will see how they tie into our values. Characters don't just have values. They have beliefs about values, and these beliefs undergird all of the decisions they make in life. This is true for us in real life as it is for our characters. If you're not ready to investigate, the character believe a great exercise for you is to investigate your own values and your own beliefs. Now that we have looked at investigating values, if you are following along with the worksheet, take some time to complete Question three, which will have to investigate values you have chosen for your character. I recommend giving this step sometime so often. I see students spend 10 minutes or so on this portion, and they miss developing their character richly. Think of how long it takes to get to know someone in real life. You want to spend some time with your character. You'll be amazed what you learn about them if you will give them the time 4. Beliefs Influence Values: Now that we have looked at values, let's turn our attention to character believes. Now we'll everyone has values. We also have believes. Ultimately we act based on our beliefs. Everything we do is based on belief. I plopped down into a chair because I believe it is sturdy and wont fall out from under me . I get on a plane because I believe the pilot knows what he is doing, and he's going to get me to my destination. Thes are moment to moment beliefs, but when you're planning a character, you want to investigate the grand scale, overarching route beliefs that guide her life. For example, a girl may think she values education and a good mind. But then she goes and spends much of her heart and money on clothes and makeup because she believes that despite what she values, boys won't be interested in her if she isn't pretty. No, that seems like a fairly common situation, but what does it tell us? It tells us that she values smarts, but that she also values being loved and that at this age she is putting the value of affection over the value of smarts and because she values being loved more. She is going to behave in the way that she believes she needs to be to attain the things she values most. What we see here is that values and believes, are intimately connected. Another example would be Children and the influence of culture around them. A young man raised in an expensive private school may value having a certain expensive car because it provides him with social standing among his peers. Ah, youth of the same age who grew up in a rough neighborhood may value being tough and being able to hold his own in a fight. Because these things matter more among his peers. Both ultimately value social acceptance, but one believes he will get it through what he owns, the other through a certain kind of behavior. A misguided beliefs are almost always at the foundation of your characters floors. I have a course on character flaws that delves entirely into this, which I recommend watching. So what does this look like? Practically speaking, once you have determined your characters values, you want to ask yourself, How does she actually behave? What believes does she have that support or conflict with these values, we are going to dive into conflicting values and beliefs next. But if you want to have follow along with your own character development, take a pause. And that's a question for on your worksheet. In the next video, we will look at how beliefs and values come into conflict and how this conflict is one of the most important plot and character development driving aspect off your story. 5. Values Create Conflict: Now that we have looked at values and believes and how they relate, I want to pull you back to focus on values. The overarching message of this video is that values are often the center of conflict. This is why we make hard decisions every day. If nothing came into conflict, there would be no hard decisions. We spend 10 minutes deciding an ice cream flavor because we like vanilla and cookies and cream. We feel bad when we miss our son soccer practice because we value work and family. Now this can be for a number of reasons and a single novel. Even a single character can manifest several of these reasons. What I want to do is run through all of them quickly, and then I will walk you three, each one at a time. So the first reason that values can come into conflict is that the character doesn't behave in accordance with something that she values, and she knows it. But she's content to disregard the discrepancy for some reason that is based on a belief and is she is not interested in rectifying the situation. The second reason is that the character knows they are not behaving in accordance with their values, but she is trying to reason. Number three. The character doesn't behave in accordance with a value, but she does not realize she is being hypocritical and reason and before the character has conflicting values, sees that she has to choose one or the other, but she doesn't like the choice. So let's look at each of these reason. Number one. The character doesn't behave in accordance with something that she values. She knows it but is content to disregard the discrepancy for some reason, based on the belief and is not interested in rectifying the situation. And this is a common situation, not just in story, but in life. We all have values, and we all know that we do not always live up to them. This could simply be because they don't try to obtain that value. For example, a taskmaster basketball coach or something made value teamwork in his players while totally not carrying that he doesn't possess that value himself. Reason Number two would be that the character knows they're not behaving in accordance with their values, but that character really is trying to now most of us have a sense of who we would like to be, and yet we all fall short of the mark. A woman may value a demeanor in which she does not gossip, and yet every time she's around a certain person, she's just opening her mouth and gossiping like mad. And then she goes off and totally regrets it. Or think of the story of an addict. She doesn't want to be addicted. Family is the most important thing to her, but she keeps overeating or drinking or doing drugs. She hates that she does it. She's trying to quit, but it's a struggle now. This reason doesn't have to be his extreme. As addiction, your character might value being forgiving but struggles with anger management. Whatever the situation, this is a deeply internal struggle. Plot wise reason. Number three. The character doesn't behave in accordance with a value, but she does not realize that she's actually being hypocritical. Now this situation does not necessarily mean that there are two conflicting values. Think of someone who thinks a lot about how important the environment is but cannot be bothered to recycle. No, critically. We could argue that if you really value to the planet he would recycle. But that is the author getting in the way of the story and the character. People do not behave logically in the character's mind, which is what matters for the story. He values the planet. This is what makes for interesting reading. He values the environment, but it isn't doing much to help it. That gives the reader room to interpret the character and to say to ourselves, Well, either this person is totally hypocritical or he's the kind of person who doesn't act on his beliefs. Remember, if your character acts completely consistently with his values, there is little in character interpretation on the port of the reader, not reason. Number four. A character has conflicting values. This is another extremely common value conflict in stories. I actually have a course on dramatizing conflicting values and beliefs, which I recommend watching it gets into this in great detail. A character may value family and also value her career. And in your story, perhaps she has been offered an opportunity to work abroad for a year, but it will mean leaving her daughter behind with her husband and missing out on a year of her daughter's life. That is a big decision, and it's a big decision because she values both of those things. And the plot is one long sequence of character decisions. If you only give your character obvious decisions to make in which she isn't forced to make a hard decision than your story will not be terribly interesting. So we want to make her sweat a little pit one value against another. Does this mean that all values are good and we only make characters choose between saving a lost dog or donating money to a charity? Absolutely not, As we will see in the next video, values can be positive or negative. But before we get there, let's recap. At this point, we have now looked at values, beliefs and the ways values come into conflict. If you're following along with the worksheet, take a break and complete the next question 6. Bad Values: not all values are good or virtuous. A character might value something that is totally not a virtue like social status, and and this might lead her to make bad financial decisions. She therefore has to choose between spending her money wisely or being well dressed for a ritzy affair that she's going to fit in. Now. If we simply look at that situation virtuously, the decision is obvious, but we're not talking about the readers. Values were talking about the characters values. And in this scene, let's say the message we are sent is that she values fitting in more than financial responsibility. So what you want to be looking for in these situations is the upside of the bad decision. What does the character think she has to gain by making the bad choice she is making? This will always be tied to a belief in the example, just given. Our character decides that fitting in is more important than being fiscally responsible. Why does she believe that? Does she think that ultimately fitting in will lead to a better job which leads to financial freedom and is therefore, unfortunately but ultimately necessary step to being financially responsible does she believe that being popular gives her greater sense of self worth? There is a belief driving her decisions. You want to know what this is, so you can connect her actions intimately to the plot can also be that a character has a positive value, which is also a virtue like honor but makes bad decisions to satisfy her understanding of that value. A woman who prizes herself on paying her debts, for example, might secretly steal fronts from the funds from the bank. She works hat to pay off her home loan. Now, in this case, she's choosing to live up to the value of paying off one's dead's. But it is at the expense of another positive value. She is in a situation in which she has to positive values, but due to other bad decisions of circumstances, cannot honor both of those things again. You will want to investigate her beliefs. Why did she choose the value she did? Perhaps she believes she will not get caught and can return the money before there was an issue. Do you see how each of these situations has its own commentary on values and virtues? How each looks at values and virtues in different ways, and how each situation challenges the characters decision making in different ways. When we have situations in which a character makes an obviously bad decision, we need to go back and look at that. Characters, beliefs and what that character believes is the upside of the bad decision that she is making. This actually relates very closely to things I say in my character flaws courses. So again, if you have not watched that, I cannot recommend it enough watching that is going to help expand on this issue in very important way. But to go back to the story of fitting in for our purposes here, we want to say OK, it was important for her to fit in. But why? What does she think is the upside of fitting in? This might seem obvious. It might just be that she's friends and sheikhoun socialized and have fun. Or maybe it's that she thinks she will get ahead at work. But we need to know why she's willing to make that obviously bad value decision. We also need to know if she realizes she's making a bad call. The first question is, does she realize she's making an obviously bad value decision? The second question is why she believes she is needs to make that decision. If she knows it's wrong, she might believe that life is just better if you're on the in crowd. Maybe she believes that if you have a high paying job, that's better than being responsible with the money you do have. But she's got some belief that is driving her decision to make this bad coal. This is why, when you solidify your character values, you have to examine those values and how they manifest themselves in action and inward. And once you look at the way, those are manifesting themselves in action. And then, in general words, you have to ask, what are the believes causing this? Keep in mind that your character may actually not be aware of what one or some of her values are. She might say she values family, but then she's always choosing career without realizing what she's doing and only comes to terms with this realization much later in the story, she might say she values family, but then she always chooses career without realizing what she's doing. and only comes to terms with the realization of how much your job matters to her later. So when you are planning your character values, ask yourself how these values manifest themselves in the story in positive and negative ways. And what are the hard decisions your character will make because of them in terms of actually writing your story? If you are a discovery writer and halfway through your novel, you realize that character X values courage. Then you need to take the time to look back at what you've written and forward to where the plot is going and see where you can demonstrate this toothy reader. Also remember that, like most things with story, it is more powerful to show rather than to tell, simply stating that Charles values patients won't mean much toothy reader. If we see Charles as patient, or if we see him praise this or prize it in others, then we will remember it, and it will mean something to us. So once you've considered your characters values, you want to ask to what extent does she embody those values? If she doesn't, why not? If she does, how does that affect things question six on your worksheet will help you outline the bad decisions your character makes, as well as the values and beliefs behind this bad decisions. In the next video, we will consider how these values and believes manifest themselves not just for one character, but when you populate your story with many characters, all of whom have their own values and beliefs. 7. Many Characters, Differing Values: now having analysed values and beliefs for a single character, we have to remember that these characters do not live in isolation. They are in a world. They are surrounded by other characters. So in addition to having our own values and beliefs come into conflict inside of ourselves , we also need to examine how those values and believes come into conflict or inconsistent when that character interacts with the world at large. I might value not gossiping, and I might do a very good job of it in certain situations. But when I'm around Sadie, suddenly I'm I'm gossiping. What's going on with my relationship with Sadie? My beliefs about that relationship or the influence she has on me that makes me sort of abdicate my value in that situation. You don't want your character having totally consistent values and beliefs with everyone in which they interact, because that's not how we function in the world. It's not realistic. This means that for each of your main characters, you want to outline how behavior changes, depending on who they are around and how their beliefs are influenced by those that are around. Now I've included a section on your worksheet that will help you do this. And to do this with the most success. This is what I recommend. I recommend that you fill out the character values worksheets for all of your main characters and focus on filling out questions one through six for each character. Once you've done this, you can then fill out question aid, which is about character influences. So, ideally, what you're going to do as you fill out the values assessment for each of your main characters. And then you're going to look across your characters and see where the conflicts happen and then do happen. And then you can go ahead and fill in that final question. It's just a way to see all of the characters traits and then see where the interesting points are. 8. Practical Application: all right. Now that we have looked at values and believes for your characters, if you have not been following along already, you are ready to fill out the worksheet. I will go over each question with you here. I recommend having it in front of you as we go through it so that you can make notes. Okay, I'm going to get my worksheet in front of me as well. So you have this wonderful character value and beliefs worksheet, And the first question is just just brainstorming the values. So what I want you to do on this step is go ahead and list all the values your character has. You are probably going to win. Oh, this down. But for the brainstorming phase, you just sort of want to get a very general idea of it. So just let your mind go and start thinking about Well, what? You know what? What are the traits I think I want my character to have. You might end up going through it a couple of times just to really be thoughtful about it. Question Number two is all about refining. So once you have a solid list of character values. I then want to go through a narrow it down to five 3 to 53 is great. Five is a max. The reason you want to do this is because it's we'd love to think that our character values all of these wonderful things and your character might for the purposes of your story. It's just too much to put in one story for us to track on all of those values for your readers to really get to know your character, you want to just give them certain few nuggets that they can really get invested deeply in . So you really don't go over five values that you're really going to stress for your character. Three is better, but five is fine. So just look at your brain storming things, winnow a town and choose your core values for your character. Question Number three is all about investigating your characters values and just asking those thoughtful questions that we looked at early in the course that will help you better to understand the character, and these include things like, you know, why does your character value this certain thing? And I recommend even doing it in an interview way and just in your head, imagining. Imagine interviewing that character being like, Well, why do you value X trait? And what does that trade me to you and what does the life of someone who values that trade look like? I've listed several questions here that you might ask Questions like this are going to help you investigate your characters values and really get to know them. Question four Turns to be leaves. So what she wanted to hear is list any overarching believes your character has, um, at this point, just I don't have to limit yourself. You don't even have to think about how these beliefs relate to values. What you're doing here is just thinking about OK, what are the things that my character believes? So I have written here. But, for example, your character might believe that being pretty is more important than being smart. She might believe that being pretty means being tall, thin and blonde. She might believe that travel is valuable. I mean, the beliefs that your listing here don't all have to relate to one another, they're just they're just believes that your character has from these you will then sort of be able to take them and work them into your values and into your story. Five question Finds all about conflicting values which you want to do here is look at your top values and think about the plot that you've written and then ask yourself if you, if you already know your story, is going, where in my story are these values going to come into conflict? And that can be with just your character internally? Or if you know other characters or other situations that are going to challenge characters values that would be fine here to the point of that question is to start to look for those dramatic moments in the story This dramatic points, which generally come when we are experiencing a value conflict. Question six is all about bad decisions, so you want to think about the bad decisions that your character is going to make in your story, and then ask yourself Teoh, identify the value conflict that's happening behind that bad decision. Then I do recommend that you take a break, as I mentioned. Go ahead and fill these questions out for the rest of your characters, and then come back and do Question eight and Question eight is just looking at the characters. Influences. I've listed a series of questions here, sort of sub questions under 80.8 that will help you sort of look at all of your different characters and each of those characters values and believes and say All right, how? Where the inconsistencies, Where are the consistencies? Where are the moments for dramatic impact? How does my protagonist act differently with character? Be in character, see and character D And what does that mean for the story? So all of these questions are designed for you to really get to know who your character is and what they're deep seated beliefs are, because once you know those things, that's what allows you to then make the right decisions about what their actions are. If if you don't know what a character believes, and you just start to put actions off onto your character, that's where you end up with those character inconsistencies that make it difficult for a reader to connect and then make the plot itself not seem genuine. So there you have it. I hope this was helpful. I appreciate so much you're watching and for all of your kind words and comments, if you have a moment, can leave a review. I would so deeply appreciate it. And once again I do encourage you to follow me elsewhere for access to other courses and advice that you won't find anywhere else. So please do visit me at my website. Sign up for my mailing list, visit me over on YouTube and I'm also on instagram. Thank you so much as always. I wish you the very best of luck with your writing. And I hope you're having a wonderful day by