Characters’ Core Philosophies, Values, and Mottoes (Penny Rader) 
I’ve been working on my characters for my wip and I’ve been struggling with what their core philosophies are, what their values and mottoes might be.  And I figure if I’m having trouble with it, maybe someone else is, too.  So I hit the internet.  Here are a few snippets of what I found:

…usually the essence of who the person is and how they’re going to react in your book is the answer to that simple question—what is their motto?

Susan Gable defines a motto as: A deeply held personal belief, stemming from the characters backstory, that impacts the way s/he views and world and behaves.

This motto is a quick way to boil down to the bones and find your character’s internal motivation and conflict.  What world view do they have to change to resolve their internal conflict?  What is ground zero for their character arc?

Character Motto (Cyndi Faria)

One of the most useful tools I use to keep my characters true to their personalities is by developing a “motto” using the Enneagram. A motto is a saying that encapsulates a character’s world view.

One of the most powerful aspects of your character are the values he or she holds deep within. Creating a character with a strong internal moral compass adds depth to your character and power to your story.

Values are psychological objects. Although we cannot see or touch them, they are every bit as real as any physical object. People may dedicate their entire lives or even give up their lives to pursue their values, as so many loyal patriots have done fighting for values of freedom, equality and human rights during the past two centuries.

The author lists 100+ Common Personal Values.  There’s also a link to Society’s Values. 

Value systems create opportunity for conflict and give characters depth. Once we’ve discovered those values, the plot comes alive as characters struggle to be true to themselves.

Ask – What three things does your character value the most?  The most important thing for X is: survival ….. adhering to the rules ….. scientific discovery …. family ….. avoiding love … finding love …. and so on.

The motto is the soul of your character, a core philosophy they hold dear. It can range from “The glass is always half-full” (or empty, depending on your character) to “Do unto others before they do unto you.”

It’s important to understand that your character doesn’t have to be consciously aware of his life motto, nor does he have to articulate it to the reader.


So…what are some of the philosophies, values, and/or mottoes held by your characters?  Do you have special techniques to share about how you create/discover your characters’ philosophies/mottoes?


Lynne Marshall said...

Holy cow - what a good and interesting topic. So now, not only do we have to know our characters' GMC and the theme for our story - but we've got to have a personal motto for them too? Wow. I don't even have a personal motto - maybe that's what's wrong with my life? LOL.
In my current Harlequin SPecial Edition - there is a pillow (Grandma embroidered it) that, I guess, you could call the motto for my character - Good things come to those who wait. Well, the heroine - Anne - essentially mocked that pillow - until...
Is that what you mean, Penny?

But as far as a personal life motto - I've never done that for a character before.
BTW - my dad's was "It's a great life if you don't weaken"
Lynne - who is off to discover her life motto.

Joan Vincent said...

Great topic, Penny, and just what I needed. I usually do a chart of my characters emotions when I get stuck but coming up with a motto might keep that from happening when combined with the GMC. Thanks!

Julie Robinson said...

Wonderful collection, Penny. Thanks for sharing. It's introduced me to a few other writers.

Ilona Fridl said...

Being a pantser, sometimes I don't find out about my characters until I get into the story. I have a basic concept of them, but sometimes they surprise me. I try to stay true to their feelings throughout.

Penny Rader said...

LOL, Lynne. I don't have a personal motto either. How fun that your character has a pillow with a motto that she mocks. Is it out now or is it your wip?

Penny Rader said...

Joan, can you elaborate a bit on the chart of your characters' emotions? Sounds intriguing.

Penny Rader said...

Welcome, Julie! I'm glad you found the links helpful.

Penny Rader said...

Ilona, isn't it weird how characters can come up with something you never expected?

Joan Vincent said...

It's not too complicated Penny. I have a page for each major character. Then I write what their emotions, positive or negative, are centered on. This may revolve around their GMC or the other characters. I definitely sketch the evolving emotional climate between hero and heroine as that has a lot to do with their interaction. Below is a sketch of the heroine through the early chapters.

At the beginning of the story Ruth is angry, frustrated and bewildered by her father’s illness which threatens their livelihood (it’s 1810 and Alzheimer’s is not known). Her young sister constantly whines while giving little help or support, increasing Ruth’s anger and frustration--which she believes she should be able to control. The uncertainty of the new position for her father frightens her. She is bent on survival one day at a time.
When she bumps into Lucian, she is astonished at the attraction but instantly denies it. She is grateful when he helps find her father. Meeting Lucian arouses a longing for what could be if things were different and adds guilt to the mixture.

This gives me a very good handle on Ruth and her character as she deals with what life throws at her. How her emotions change will be relfected in her actions and interactions.
I find this exercise useful when I am stuck in a story and hope it is of some use to you and not just clear as mud.

Joan Vincent said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Penny Rader said...

Thanks for sharing, Joan! I love finding out how other writers, well, write. ;D I'm always pleased by how generous writers are about sharing what they know.

Lynne Marshall said...

Penny asked: How fun that your character has a pillow with a motto that she mocks. Is it out now or is it your wip?

Hi Penny - the book is out now. It's a Harlequin Special Edition called COURTING HIS FAVORITE NURSE.

Thanks for asking. :)

Penny Rader said...

Thanks, Lynne! Looks like a trip to the bookstore is in my future. :D

Melissa Robbins said...

Great post/links, Penny. I'm fortunate that in my WW2 mysteries, I have that 'defeating the Germans', stiff upper lip philosophies. As Basil likes to say, "For King and Country."

My motto is "Keep Calm and Write On."

Penny Rader said...

Melissa, I always wondered what the stiff upper lip thing was about. {trying my upper lip stiff...not sure I'm doing it the right away}