How To Build On Your Characters Values and Beliefs

Over the past few blogs, before my honeymoon, I have been doing a mini-blog series of character development – here are the links Backstory and FlashbacksCharacter’s Voice and Dialogue.

In the first post of the series, I mention there are five important factors to consider building your character and a well-rounded character. These are (not in ascending importance level):

  1. Back-story and flashbacks
  2. Voice and Dialogue
  3. Beliefs and values
  4. Physical traits; and
  5. Goals and motivations.

In this post, I will be looking at how to build on your character’s values and beliefs in your novel.

Firstly, I want to establish what the difference is between values and beliefs.

Values are individual beliefs that motivate people to act one way or another. They serve as a guide for human behavior. Values are universal.

Belief is the attitude we have whenever we take something to be the case or regard it as the truth. They can be assumptions they hold to be true based on past events.

These elements for character development are essential for a well-rounded character. The values and beliefs drive your character through each scene and hurdle they face.

When your character/s use values to make decisions, they focus on what is important to them. Some values have intrinsic worth, such as love, truth, and freedom. Other values, such as ambition, responsibility, and courage, describe traits or behaviors that are instrumental as a means to an end. So, whether values are sacred, have intrinsic worth, or are a means to an end, values vary among individuals and across cultures and time.

What are your characters core values?

In order for your character to evolve in a positive way, he/she has to start out with something lacking in their life, some reason that makes the change necessary. They are incomplete in some way, but not because they are lacking something external but mostly internal.

I think the belief our character believes should be a lie. Your character’s lie could take any number of forms. For example:

  • Money is to be treasured more than people.
  • The weak must always give in to the strong.
  • The only way to earn love is through servitude.

What is the lie your character believes?

The Lie your character believes is the foundation for their character arc. This is what’s wrong in their world. Your character/s should struggle with their values and the Lie.

“A powerful Lie informs your character’s backstory, defines their worldview and personality, leads to their failures throughout your story’s external conflict, creates tension in their relationships, heightens your story’s stakes, and eventually leads them to a moment of emotional confrontation and transformation, laying the groundwork for their character development.” Kristen Kieffer, 2017.

This misconception is going to prove a direct obstacle to their ability to fulfill the plot goal and their values will help make decisions but also cause internal conflict.

In some instances, the Lie may start out to be a strength, but as the story progresses, it will become your character’s weakness as they struggle with their values and motivations.

Stay tuned for my next post about character development. If you want to read the last post, click here.

Until then, make sure you post your questions, comments or/ and answers below. If you think someone has an interesting point of view, questions or an answer, please invite them or share this post with them.

#DouglasWTSmith #characterdevelopment

characters beginnings

8 thoughts on “How To Build On Your Characters Values and Beliefs

  1. What do you mean by “values are universal”? Are you saying that values are related to a group consciousness, rather than an individual (e.g., a culture, a political party, an occupation, etc.)? For me, the big difference between beliefs and values is that the former is how just we think, and the latter leads to how we act. Beliefs inform values which inform action. So I may have a belief that children are inherently innocent, which supports a value that children should be protected, that results in a action that I give children preference for lifeboat seats on the Titanic.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “Values are universal.” I am referring to the concepts of love, trust, good, evil etc.
      These values can be for a group or individually and that leads to how your character acts in certain situations, e.g giving their lifeboat seat on the Titanic.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Those sorts of things are far from universal. Recall that in the middle ages (and indeed even today in some places in the world) a woman having sex before marriage was/is considered evil, and stoning her to death is good. Everything, EVERYTHING, is relative. Check out the book “Sapiens” by Yuval Noah Harari. He talks a lot about human thought and belief, which he argues is what made our species the most successful in history. Our capacity for mythmaking.

        Liked by 1 person

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