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…
- A systematically arranged and comprehensive collection of laws.
- 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.
(I love that movie! :))