GOOD STORIES are value driven. They are more than just about the outer journey that the Hero embarks on in pursuit of a difficult but worthy goal.
In How to Make a Good Script Great, Hollywood screenwriting consultant Linda Seger reminds us that something more meaningful has to occur to deepen the story – it has to address some aspect of the human condition and the values that underpin it.
Value Driven Stories
A value driven system can be a negative or positive one. In the film, Gladiator, Maximus’ 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.
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.
In A Beautiful Mind, John Nash 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 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.
Value driven tales make for good stories. 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 yields the victor.