Big Cat, Middle Cat, and Little Cat have been roommates with Human-Mom for quite some time. How do they live together when their values are so different? Human mom’s idea of a good time involves tea and maybe waffles and maybe sitting down together (over Zoom) to do some writing.
The cats’ idea of a good time involves killing a bird and leaving it on Human-Mom’s bed as a token of their affection.
Big Cat, Little Cat
Family and Friends and Values
We don’t always have the same values as the people we live with; the people we grow up with. We might love them but that doesn’t mean we can stand them. Most good stories are based on this tension. Aristotle says that the closer the characters are, the better the story. This is no doubt why a lot of really badly written drama (looking at you, Star Wars… but a lot of writers and writers’ rooms do this) will use that gimmick of trying to raise the stakes by dramatically revealing that one character is the secret offspring of another.
The reason why this gimmick doesn’t work is because family doesn’t always mean love. It’s not enough to say that one person is the parent of the other. You also have to show that there is love or even respect between the two characters. I get the sense that Star Wars is from an era when family was considered fate to a greater extent than it is now.
Different types of Love, Different Types of Values
Love is not a binary and neither are values (precious little is, if you pay attention). So you can’t just write a story where one character’s values are this and another character’s values are that but they love each other so they make it work. I mean. You can. But it’ll be cotton candy. All sugar and air. No substance. What happens when you try to write a story about a real relationship? What happens when there are no happy endings? When the same arguments come up again and again and get bedded down again and again like children?
You might think this focus on divergent values will be depressing. And in the wrong hands, it will be. But it can also give you a compelling background against which to discuss things that really matter to in the relationship–the siblings, spouses, or any combination of people.
Don’t Jump in the Deep End First Thing
But a story is simpler than life. It has to be. So start simple. Give two characters opposing goals but give them some shared history. Make the goals clear and make the history clear. You can try giving them some shared values but not others. Even though that gets complicated. And then just.. see what they do together. If it works, great! If it doesn’t work? Writing a bad story is the first step to writing a good story.
Three identical panels, each consisting of a large orange cat and a small grey cat. The large orange is smiling down at the little grey, while the grey looks out of the frame with a discontented expression.
Big Cat: I’m bored, Little Cat. Do you think Human-Mom would object if we got takeout?
Little Cat: [says nothing]
Little Cat: You want to put a dead bird on her bed again, don’t you?
Big Cat: Not… necessarily…