A few years ago, my then nineteen-year-old nephew moved in with me and my hubby. He lived with us a little over a year with the ambition of getting his head on straight and not hanging with the wrong people (who inevitably got him into trouble).
During that time I did my best to teach him all the basic life skills he hadn’t picked up at home: cooking, setting goals, studying, budgeting, communicating, lawn care, and most important—how to make good choices (yeah, I know, trying to teach a nineteen year old boy to make good decisions is a Sisyphean battle. But I did what I could.).
Turns out, I learned a ton by teaching him all these life skills, because I was forced to evaluate my own. One of the most important things I realized everyone can benefit from is a set of core values. I even make sure to give all the characters in my romance novels core values.
Different from morals, or rules, core values are the actions and experiences most important to you (Notice I did not include things.). If you use your core values as a guide, making decisions—especially big, life-changing ones—becomes much easier.
To give you a better idea, here are my core values, and how they impact my life choices…
Because of my core values, I’ve lived in some of the most incredible outdoor recreation towns in the world in Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and Washington. I’ve climbed and skied mountains, run rivers, and ridden trails to spectacular places I wouldn’t have seen any other way. I’ve travelled to 15 countries and speak 2.25 languages. I’ve made incredible friends all over the country and the world—the kind of people you can count on to be there in the fun times and the hard times. And I’ve taken charge of my life choices, never settling for less just because it’s easy.
Not only have my core values made me a happier person, they’ve helped me have a really happy marriage because I found a partner with similar core values. So choosing places to live and things to do, and where to spend our money, is easy.
Telling a story is really about setting up a series of situations that require decisions that lead to new situations. If I know what my characters core values are, it’s much easier to know what decisions they’re likely to make. Or what’s likely to upset them or spur them to action. I can create loads of tension by putting them in situations that go against their core values, or force them to reevaluate their core values.
For example, if my main character values family over everything else, they’re less likely to want to take a job in another country. Whereas if one of their core values is to have adventures whenever possible, they might happily say yes to the same job.
If I know my character values solitude, meeting a man who loves city life is going to create different situations/decisions than if she meets a man with a cabin in the mountains.
In my upcoming novella, In Deep, my main characters start out with conflicting core values. My hero, Max, is determined to protect everyone he cares about—hard to do when you (and your friends, family, and ex) work on ski patrol. My heroine, Sophie, is determined to put her career as a ski patroller before everything else—especially any man—because when she didn’t before, she was deeply unhappy.
Max has to learn he can’t protect everyone, least of all Sophie. She has to learn that not every man wants her to give up her career for them. Their core values make it all the more interesting.
What do you think about core values? Do you have some? Can you see how they apply in writing fictional characters as much as in real life?