There are many skills that go into writing authentic, colourful characters. Having a handle on their emotions, attitudes and values is certainly one of them.
Attitudes: In 300, Sparta’s fierce and unyielding defiance stems from its sense of independence and its belief in its fighting ability. It is personified through King Leonidas’ response to the gauntlet thrown at his feet by the Persian envoy who demands that earth and water be offered by King Leonidas as a token of submission to the God-King Xerxes. Sparta can then be allowed to continue as a puppet state, or face annihilation. Leonidas’ response is: ‘This is Sparta’. It succinctly encapsulates Sparta’s attitude of confidence and defiance. The result? Leonidas plunges the messenger to his death, which initiates the war with Xerxes.
Values: Values are the deep infrastructure residing within the character’s core. They form the foundation of the character’s moral and motivational hierarchy. Values spawn ideology, sustain belief, initiate action and mould behaviour.
“‘Imbuing your characters with emotions, attitudes and values will help grant them a sense of verisimilitude.”
Staying with our 300 example, we find Queen Gorco echoing the importance that Sparta places on courage and strength in service of the community, even when facing the insurmountable odds of the Persian army under the command of Xerxes. The Queen tells her husband who is leading 300 warriors to the Hot Gates to block the invaders to ‘come back with his shield or on it’—in other words, to die protecting his people, if needs be. Self-sacrifice in service of the wider good is seen as a paramount Spartan value.
Emotions: Before taking the final decision to kill the messenger and, in effect, declare war on Xerxes, Leonidas seems to hesitate, contemplating the hell that is to be unleashed on the people of his tiny kingdom. He turns to his wife as if to seek confirmation that he is doing the right thing. She offers him the slightest of nods—no need for words here. It is a touching moment, filled with subtle emotion as befitting a warrior nation, where the King of Sparta seeks and gets the approval of his queen before plunging Sparta into war.
Humans are complex. Instill emotions, attitudes and values in your characters to increase their verisimilitude and effectiveness.