The Not So Secret Code of Character

Codes are all around us: computer codes, genetic codes, building codes, zip codes, Morse code and bar codes. The military has codes, professionals have codes, even pirates have codes (though I hear they’re more like guidelines than actual rules.)

So what is a code? According to the online Free Dictionary a code is…

  1. A systematically arranged and comprehensive collection of laws.
  2. A systematic collection of regulations and rules of procedure or conduct.

Basically, codes are the rules we use to govern the way we want to live. Our codes of honor, ethics and conduct make up our conscious. They give us a moral compass for orienteering our way though life. Right or wrong, we all have a philosophy by which we live. And so should our characters.

We enjoy stories of heroes with a strong moral code; Yoda (Star Wars), Mr. Miyagi (The Karate Kid), William Wallace (Braveheart). We also enjoy stories of heroes with codes that rival the rules of society. Who doesn’t love a wronged hero who takes matters into his own hands, even if that means going against the law?  He’s redeemable in our eyes as long as he is 1) true to his own moral philosophy and 2) that moral philosophy doesn’t stray too far from our own beliefs.

Were you cheering for Dr. Richard Kimball (Harrison Ford) in The Fugitive? Why? He was an escaped convict. How about Rambo (Sylvester Stallone)? He killed cops and blew up a town. What about Jack Colton (Michael Douglas) in Romancing the Stone? He was a mondo dismo.**  😉

Even though these heroes weren’t always heroic, they had a clear code of conduct they believed in and followed. That glimpse into their psyche enabled the viewers to understand their actions, to justify them and sympathize with the character.  That emotional connection between character and reader is exactly what we’re striving to achieve in our writing.

Have you given your hero and heroine a clear set of codes to live by? How about your villain?

In the comments, please share which characters (books or movies) you believe have a (not so secret) code of conduct. And why you find them intriguing.

~K.M. Fawcett

**Joan Wilder: You’re a mondo dismo!
Jack Colton: I’m… what am I? I’m what?
Joan Wilder: You’re a man who takes money from stranded women!

(I love that movie! :))

10 responses to “The Not So Secret Code of Character

  1. Pingback: The Not So Secret Code of Character (via Attacking the Page) « Pilant's Business Ethics Blog

  2. Great post! I think one reason the audience/reader cheers for the Richard Kimballs of the world (I love that movie!) is because we identify with their choices. Who wouldn’t try to escape from the bus taking them to jail in order to prove they were innocent of killing their wife? I know I would!
    How about Paul Newman’s character in the Verdict? He’s a washed up, alcoholic lawyer, but boy do you want him winning the case. Of course, we are talking about Paul Newman…

  3. Great post! So important that you understand the code by which your characters live.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Caridad! I love Jesse’s code of honor in your book, Stronger Than Sin. Who doesn’t love a man who will go through that torture to protect his family and the woman he loves? *wistful sigh*

  4. My knights have a code of character, although Sir Braeden puts his and all of Camelot’s in jeapordy for his lady love. But that’s what romantic heroes are supposed to do, arent; they?

    I always cheer for Dexter. I thihk he does what a lot of us wish to myhappen to truly evil people in this world, although our own personal codes won’t allow it.

    And I have to admit, I do all sorts of things to people who wrong me. Until I wake up and enter the real world!

    Great post – got me thinking.

  5. If I didn’t have typos, who would know it was me,

  6. Nagaraj Katti

    When ever I think of code of conduct, I can not help but think of Howard Roark from The Fountain Head of Ayn Rand for obvious reasons.

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