Tag Archives: Story values

Understanding Story Values

Story Values

Story Values

Good stories relate more than an outer journey that the Hero embarks on in pursuit of a difficult but worthy goal. Hollywood screenwriting consultant, Linda Seger, reminds us that something more meaningful has to occur to deepen and universalise the story – the story has to address some aspect of the human condition and the values that underpin it.

Theme reveals Value

The search for justice, the pursuit of excellence, the striving for honour, the need for fulfillment – these are all aspects of a character’s inner journey that help audiences and readers identify with the Hero. A value system can be a negative or positive one. In the film, Gladiator, Maximus’s (Russell Crowe) actions seem ostensibly to be driven by his desire to revenge the slaughter of his family. But a closer examination reveals that he is also driven by his need to right the wrongs of government that arose as a consequence of the emperor’s death.

In A Beautiful Mind, John Nash (Russell Crowe) needs to solve a great mathematical problem in order to prove his worth. He is driven by great intelligence, which manifests, in part, in his condescending attitude towards his peers and teachers. Yet, at a deeper level, he strives for things of the heart, rather than just those of the mind: he makes up a fictional government agent who appreciates his abilities and encourages him to solve a puzzle which can save the world – a mark of his superior intelligence and his need to serve the greater good.

A story’s value system can spring from a character’s desire for authenticity, as in Driving Miss Daisy, in which Miss Daisy (Jessica Tandy) discovers her true self is more connected to those below her social sphere than she realises. A value system can also espouse social values – a fight for peace, justice, and freedom, as in Thelma and Louise and A Few Good Men. Whatever the emphasis, values underpin a character’s actions, helping to guide, inflect, and often create a story-enriching inner conflict.

Summary

Good stories rest on the bedrock of values. Values guide a character’s actions; a story’s value system is revealed by the theme, which is typically settled at the end of the story when the clash between the Hero and antagonist yields a final result – such as good trumps evil, or vice versa.

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