Yesterday's blog post comments revealed that some of you are unfamiliar with what code means for a character. (Later in the day there are some very savvy comments about code; I encourage you to read the entire comment trail.)
Code is what a character thinks is right and wrong. What they will do, what they won't do. What they think is important. And unimportant.
To use my favorite example, Jack Reacher: Reacher's code is he's on the side of the underdog. We see this over and over again when Reacher steps in to balance the scales of power. He hitches a ride east with an old black couple who have a gig in Atlantic City. He sticks around, counts the people paying admission, lets the club manager SEE he's keeping count, and when the time comes to settle up, he's the muscle enforcing the contract for the couple who would have been victims had he not been there.
What's in it for Reacher? Nothing, except he couldn't let the situation slide without breaking his code.
To use another favorite example, The Wire. "A man must have a code."
Omar, who robs drug dealers of Baltimore and has been seen to shoot more than a few of them too, will not put his gun on someone who isn't in the game.
The trick about code is to SHOW it, not necessarily tell it. Omar in fact doesn't say this is his code, he agrees with Detective Bunk Moreland who says it.
Reacher never says "this is my code" but we readers know what it is pretty early on in each book.
And one of the reasons Robert Parker's books ceased to entice me after The Widening Gyre was that Spenser kept talking about his damn code, to the point I wanted to beat him over the head.
Blake Snyder talks about an element of code in his essential book Save The Cat (page xv)