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Fantasy Writers

Morally Ambiguous Characters

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  • #153111
    Neasa
    @irishcelticredflowercrown

    Hi so I wanted to get opinions on the morally grey character archetype. Its a pretty big deal in the fantasy genre, particularly in YA – which isn’t exactly a good thing in my opinion? Let me explain.

    I have no problem with morally grey characters in general. In fact I’m all for them. I think its important to portray the human psyche and the effect sin has on one’s moral compass.

    However, I do not like the way morally grey characters and their actions are being glorified in fiction and even held to a high standard. If any of you are on instagram or tiktok then you probably know what I mean. I want to understand a character and his or her motivations, that way I can see the humanity in them. I do not however want to read a book or watch a show where I’m being told to like a character after he or she has done terrible things.

    In my WIP, its a war torn world where morality basically has no place in society. Characters are forced to make difficult decisions for their own survival. For example my character Lorcán is what one would call ‘morally ambiguous’ because you don’t know who’s side he’s on or what his exact motivations are. He comes across as cold and merciless (cause he’s an assassin) but as the story goes on you glimpse his humanity and you gradually learn that he doesn’t like what he’s doing even though he believes its necessary. You kind of see his cold shell crack apart when my MC comes along, for a bunch of different reasons. And it is going to be a gradual redemption arc for him, so there’s that too.

    Anyways, I’d love to hear some opinions on this topic 🙂

    #153115
    solanelle
    @calidris

    @irishcelticredflowercrown I have a few opinions on this!

    So, I think I should start this off by saying that in general, people often seem to use the term “morally gray character” to refer to a likeable character with bad morals.  You could have two characters – say, an assassin or master thief – and depending on the way they are written, they could either seem like a villain or a roguish anti-hero.  People will say that the villain is a villain, but the anti-hero is morally grey.  However, both characters are doing something wrong, and their personality doesn’t change the fact that they’re sinning.  I think that one of the major pitfalls of this character type is that people (even Christians) are willing to overlook a lot of sin from a character they really like and feel attached too, and so in my opinion it’s extra important to make sure that your portrayal of them is crystal clear on the fact that what they’re doing is wrong.

    That being said, I think it’s great that Christian writers are open to exploring this character type!  I think that there’s so much thematic potential here tbh – being able to recognize both the good and the bad in people, the recognition of really, really difficult situations that would cause people to compromise their morals, the acknowledgement that sometimes bad people can be incredibly likeable and charming, etc. etc.

    I think that one of the best ways that we can avoid glorifying sin in our writing is to clearly portray the consequences of their actions.  This applies to any character, but I think it’s especially important with morally gray characters, since they tend to be seen as “cool.”  I think it’s also important to let this be a natural consequence instead of just punishment from the author XD

    For example, a lot of characters’ sins and mistakes culminated in Kit being ostracized, and even after this event, these sins continued to have an effect.  Cecil never would have shared about the private struggle Kit confided in him if he weren’t drunk, and Kit’s petty motives and arrogance/cockiness while interacting with Alastor certainly caused some resentment, which very well might have been a factor in Alastor’s decision to out Kit and socially isolate him.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Cecil was later tempted to drown his guilt and shame over betraying Kit’s trust in even more booze, and even Alastor himself was plagued by guilt and fear after seeing how cruelly Kit was treated, because he realized that the exact same thing could one day happen to him if someone shared a “shameful” secret of his own (I say “shameful” because Kit knows that his shame has been taken away by his Savior, while Alastor is probably an unbeliever and has not experienced that redemption.)  I think Alastor also knows that because he gained social power through gossip and drama, he’s opened up opportunities for other people to use these same tactics against him – he’s essentially afraid of being pitted against someone like himself.

    One thing that is kind of concerning to me about this trend, though, is that I think that some moral issues have become kind of…sanitized?  I think it shouldn’t come as a surprise when the world supports praises worldly characters, but I’m kind of concerned by the lack of concern even some Christians have with this specific character type.  Like IDK about you, but whenever someone says “morally gray character” I automatically think of a “cool” assassin, thief, or smuggler.  And this character archetype, in my mind, is automatically “cool” because morally gray characters tend to be portrayed as cool and charismatic?  And from what I’ve seen, this specific character tends to pop up a lot even in Christian fantasy.  But when you really think about it, it makes absolutely no sense.  How come it’s ok to write a cool assassin, but not a cool drug dealer?  We understand that the drug dealer is in sin, and we don’t want to glorify that, but for some reason I just feel like there’s kind of this mental disconnect from the reality of what this cool assassin/rogue character type truly is, and I honestly feel like people are using it a little bit too flippantly (this is stuff I’ve done too, btw.)  Also, none of this is meant to be any kind of dig at Lorcan  – it’s just something that I’ve noticed in Christian writing circles that I wish people would stop and consider.  I think that portraying any sinful lifestyle as “cool” is just a really bad idea in general, and has the potential to be a massive stumbling block for a lot of readers.  Most people might not be tempted to become assassins, but portraying the lifestyle associated with it as cool or glamorous (without properly portraying the absolute emptiness and darkness associated with it) is disrespectful to the inherent value of their victim’s lives, and could cause the reader to start valuing their lives less.  It’s a slippery slope imo.

    I also think that convictions play a really important role here.  For example, right now I have no issue writing about a character like Kit – a believer who happens to struggle with same-sex attraction.  However, right now I know I’m not spiritually mature enough to write about a character who’s actively pursuing same-sex relationships, and tbh I don’t know if I ever will be.  Likewise, I personally would not write about a character who is engaging in witchcraft, (although I think that’s starting to become an important area to explore through a Christian lens because the occult is really starting to become a lot more popular.)  God might have plans for other Christians to do so, but as of now I feel very certain that these are not areas I need to be exploring.

    One area in which my convictions really differ from a lot of Christian writers is that I don’t really write about violence.  I can maybe think of three potential instances of violence, and those were all instigated by an antagonist.  Personally, I’ve found that thinking about and plotting scenes involving violence and fighting made me feel farther away from God – even something as “minor” as a fistfight felt unhealthy to dwell on.  I feel like for some reason, God doesn’t want me writing about these things, so I’m obeying that conviction and avoiding those scenes.  Back when I was really lukewarm, I had a lot of violent/fighting scenes in my writing, but as I started growing closer to God and making an effort to intentionally pursue Him and involve Him in my writing, the amount of violence significantly decreased.  Obviously, I’m far from perfect, but I do see the changes in my writing as evidence of my spiritual growth and sanctification.  This isn’t to say that it’s wrong for Christians to write about violence!  This is just a personal conviction that God has put on my heart, but I do think it’s a good reminder to check your heart and your motives.  What is the purpose of the morally gray/touchy things you’re including?  Honestly, as I look back on my heart and maturity throughout my time as a writer (even just this year,) there’s been so many times when my motives were immature or flat out bad, and I’m so thankful to God for correcting me and even using the writing that came out of those impure motives for far better purposes.  Throughout this year, I’ve made a really intentional choice of asking God to shape and change my writing as He sees fit, and to show me how I can use it to better glorify Him.  It’s something that I believe has led to really, really rapid growth and maturing both in my writing and in my personal walk with Christ, and I would encourage you to do it as well!

    And at the end of the day, I think it really all boils down to this question: who and what does this character glorify?  Is God glorified by this character and by their arc, or does their story just magnify darkness?  Because I think you can have a dark or morally gray character who ultimately glorifies God – either by their redemption through grace, or through justice and the portrayal of good conquering evil.  I’d steer away from depicting anything that only serves to magnify the darkness (one reason why I’m wary of Christian horror.)  And absolutely ask Him how you can glorify Him with your characters and story!

    This is a really interesting topic, and I’m curious to hear your thoughts!

    • This reply was modified 1 year, 6 months ago by solanelle.
    • This reply was modified 1 year, 6 months ago by solanelle.
    • This reply was modified 1 year, 6 months ago by solanelle.

    *laughs as one fey*

    #153119
    Neasa
    @irishcelticredflowercrown

    @calidris I pretty much agree with everything that you just said there. Especially about how moral issues are being sanitised and that people like to make the assassin character ‘cool’ but not the drug dealer. On example is an anime I watched recently vinland saga, it has a character who is considered to be the fan favourite because he’s morally grey. Sure he has an interesting character arc, but in my opinion, he’s just a straight up villain with a sad backstory, so I find the universal praise for this ‘awesome’ character somewhat disturbing.

    I think that one of the best ways that we can avoid glorifying sin in our writing is to clearly portray the consequences of their actions.  This applies to any character, but I think it’s especially important with morally gray characters, since they tend to be seen as “cool.”  I think it’s also important to let this be a natural consequence instead of just punishment from the author XD

    Absolutely! In general one of the biggest complaints about fiction nowadays is that the characters are spared from the consequences of their own actions. Imagine that😂

    For example, a lot of characters’ sins and mistakes culminated in Kit being ostracized, and even after this event, these sins continued to have an effect.  Cecil never would have shared about the private struggle Kit confided in him if he weren’t drunk, and Kit’s petty motives and arrogance/cockiness while interacting with Alastor certainly caused some resentment, which very well might have been a factor in Alastor’s decision to out Kit and socially isolate him.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Cecil was later tempted to drown his guilt and shame over betraying Kit’s trust in even more booze, and even Alastor himself was plagued by guilt and fear after seeing how cruelly Kit was treated, because he realized that the exact same thing could one day happen to him if someone shared a “shameful” secret of his own (I say “shameful” because Kit knows that his shame has been taken away by his Savior, while Alastor is probably an unbeliever and has not experienced that redemption.)  I think Alastor also knows that because he gained social power through gossip and drama, he’s opened up opportunities for other people to use these same tactics against him – he’s essentially afraid of being pitted against someone like himself.

    Can I just say that I want to give Kit like the biggest, best hug in the world?😪 That poor thing! And I think its great that you’re prepared to use his character to address a topic as complex as this. I can tell how dedicated you are to getting Kit’s character arc right, so I know you will do the topic justice 🙂

    One area in which my convictions really differ from a lot of Christian writers is that I don’t really write about violence.  I can maybe think of three potential instances of violence, and those were all instigated by an antagonist.  Personally, I’ve found that thinking about and plotting scenes involving violence and fighting made me feel farther away from God – even something as “minor” as a fistfight felt unhealthy to dwell on.  I feel like for some reason, God doesn’t want me writing about these things, so I’m obeying that conviction and avoiding those scenes.  Back when I was really lukewarm, I had a lot of violent/fighting scenes in my writing, but as I started growing closer to God and making an effort to intentionally pursue Him and involve Him in my writing, the amount of violence significantly decreased.  Obviously, I’m far from perfect, but I do see the changes in my writing as evidence of my spiritual growth and sanctification.  This isn’t to say that it’s wrong for Christians to write about violence!  This is just a personal conviction that God has put on my heart, but I do think it’s a good reminder to check your heart and your motives.  What is the purpose of the morally gray/touchy things you’re including?  Honestly, as I look back on my heart and maturity throughout my time as a writer (even just this year,) there’s been so many times when my motives were immature or flat out bad, and I’m so thankful to God for correcting me and even using the writing that came out of those impure motives for far better purposes.  Throughout this year, I’ve made a really intentional choice of asking God to shape and change my writing as He sees fit, and to show me how I can use it to better glorify Him.  It’s something that I believe has led to really, really rapid growth and maturing both in my writing and in my personal walk with Christ, and I would encourage you to do it as well!

    I respect that you have decided to stay away from topics that you feel you shouldn’t breach. I think there are far too many writers who think they can do a hard topic justice and end up failing. The topic of violence is quite a tricky one for Christians, it should definitely not be glorified. In my case, I feel compelled to focus on the horrors of war in my WIP. It didn’t start off that way, it was a gradual process, beginning after I watched some war-themes films and shows. The power of indoctrination and corruption became something I just couldn’t ignore, which then moved onto the consequences of these deeds. One thing I know for sure is that it is horrifically easy for people turn against one another. You don’t need a very complicated reason. Like in Northern Ireland, Catholics and Protestants turned against one another simply because of their different political and cultural identities. That particular ongoing conflict was actually an inspiration for the war in my series.

    For all of my characters, they are all affected by a heavy indoctrination of some sort, war truama and displacement. That is why the morals in that story are so bent, at least for the young characters, including Lorcán. But I also recently added in two new characters, a married couple, Rathnait and Oisín, who actually serve as sort of spiritual and emotional help to them.

    And I always ask God to guide me of course 🙂 because like I said, I deal with a lot of terrible and complicated subjects. Can’t do it without Him!😁

    And at the end of the day, I think it really all boils down to this question: who and what does this character glorify?  Is God glorified by this character and by their arc, or does their story just magnify darkness?  Because I think you can have a dark or morally gray character who ultimately glorifies God – either by their redemption through grace, or through justice and the portrayal of good conquering evil.  I’d steer away from depicting anything that only serves to magnify the darkness (one reason why I’m wary of Christian horror.)  And absolutely ask Him how you can glorify Him with your characters and story!

    Definitely! For Lorcán it’s definitely God being glorified through his character by his redemption arc. I look at him through the lens of a soldier. I will try to explain this as best as I can without giving away spoilers so here goes:

    Lorcán has an us-or-them and it’s-for-the-greater-good sort of mindset, which was built up over a long period of time. He believes what he does will be beneficial in the long run, even so he detests his profession. Through his relationships with Mayra and other characters, the doubt he’s always had at the back of his mind slowly spills out. He wants ‘freedom’ and ‘peace’ but the problem with that is that he has always been taught that it’s ‘the other side’ that’s the issue, which means ‘the other side’ have to go. Bottom line is – lots of people have to die if you want to achieve ultimate peace and freedom. That’s how war starts and genocides occur. And its his ultimate realisation later on in the series that its all a lie, that he doesn’t hate and doesn’t want to hate ‘the other side’, he’s just being used for war and that genocide is the endgame, that causes him to just crack and decide he wants no part in it. He is going to achieve peace the righteous way.

    I don’t know if I answered all your points in your response, so let me know your thoughts! 🙂

    #153128
    solanelle
    @calidris

    @irishcelticredflowercrown

    On example is an anime I watched recently vinland saga, it has a character who is considered to be the fan favourite because he’s morally grey. Sure he has an interesting character arc, but in my opinion, he’s just a straight up villain with a sad backstory, so I find the universal praise for this ‘awesome’ character somewhat disturbing.

    EXACTLY!   See, I think it’s good to show that side of humanity – I think a lot of people who turn to evil do have trauma or a lot of hurt in their past, and choosing to follow these desires give them a sense of control over their lives.  It’s interesting to think about how if circumstances had been slightly different, and if characters made different choices, the villain could have turned into a hero, and the hero turned into a villain.  It’s just important to remember that a person’s trauma or personality absolutely do not excuse the bad things they’ve done.

    I also think that part of the issue is that main characters tend to be really boring and unlikable.  I think in some cases, people do gravitate towards morally gray or even straight up villainous characters just because they’re dark, but I also think that these characters are just generally really interesting!  I think that there’s kind of this expectation sometimes that an MC has to be a good role model, and so sometimes authors don’t give them opportunities to really mess up and show an uglier side.  Again, it’s something that Haikyuu did so well – the main characters were incredibly flawed, but they were interesting, and you knew that they would grow from their mistakes instead of just ignoring them.  Also, I think when people idolize a character, they might be less likely to admit they’ve done something wrong because they’ve actually attached a part of their own identity to that character (You can see this in real life too with politics and celebrity culture.)

    Also btw is the anime any good?  I need something new to watch XD

    Absolutely! In general one of the biggest complaints about fiction nowadays is that the characters are spared from the consequences of their own actions. Imagine that😂

    It’s so strange because people are actively asking for better writing, and yet the publishers aren’t really listening…

    Can I just say that I want to give Kit like the biggest, best hug in the world?😪 That poor thing! And I think its great that you’re prepared to use his character to address a topic as complex as this. I can tell how dedicated you are to getting Kit’s character arc right, so I know you will do the topic justice 🙂

    That’s so encouraging to hear that from you!  It’s something I’ve really been trying to get right, and it’s something that I’ve committed into God’s hands.  I’ve just been asking Him to use Kit’s character to accomplish whatever it is that he wants, and I have faith that He’s going to continue to mold Spire into what He wants it to be 🙂

    And Kit would absolutely love that – his main love language is touch :’)  Also you just know he gives the best hugs XD

    Honestly, I could say the same for you and Lorcan – I’m so glad you’re tackling the subject of war and tyranny in your writing!  I feel like in Christian fantasy, there’s kind of this tendency to have the “good” side and the “bad” side, and they both always act accordingly.  Whatever violence the good side uses is justified, because they’re fighting pure evil.  I’m not saying that all stories with this format are bad (in fact, I think that they can be really great allegories, like the Chronicles of Narnia,) but imo governments in real life always hold some degree of corruption because they’re lead by sinful people.  Obviously some forms of government are way worse than others, but there is never a true “good” side when dealing with humans, and I’d love to see more Christian fiction tackle that!

    I respect that you have decided to stay away from topics that you feel you shouldn’t breach. I think there are far too many writers who think they can do a hard topic justice and end up failing. The topic of violence is quite a tricky one for Christians, it should definitely not be glorified. In my case, I feel compelled to focus on the horrors of war in my WIP. It didn’t start off that way, it was a gradual process, beginning after I watched some war-themes films and shows. The power of indoctrination and corruption became something I just couldn’t ignore, which then moved onto the consequences of these deeds. One thing I know for sure is that it is horrifically easy for people turn against one another. You don’t need a very complicated reason. Like in Northern Ireland, Catholics and Protestants turned against one another simply because of their different political and cultural identities. That particular ongoing conflict was actually an inspiration for the war in my series.

    You hit the nail on the head!  I think in my case, I used to glorify violence perpetrated by the protagonists in my earlier writing, and I think that’s probably a huge reason why I now avoid writing it.

    I will say, after writing my recent post, I’ve realized that there actually more potential instances of violence in my story than I remembered.  Right now, my protagonists are pretty peaceful, but an issue of self-defense might come up at some point.  For now, I know I’m sticking to non-lethal violence (at the bare minimum,) and I’ll have to pray about the rest 🙂

    By the way, have you seen 1917 by any chance?  I just watched it with my family (as of finishing up this response XD,) and I think you’d really like it!  I have to preface this by saying that there were some graphic scenes, a lot of swearing (including f-bombs and using the Lord’s name in vain) as well as an inappropriate joke I never actually picked up on (the movie is rated R.)  That being said, it’s a phenomenal movie, and a very powerful portrayal of the realities of war (my dad mentioned that they actually probably toned it down – which I agree with.)  It was brutal and heart-wrenching, but it was also (imo) tastefully done.  It’s not a movie I could recommend to everyone (because of the content issues,) but I know that you like darker/realistic portrayals of war, and I figured you might be interested!  I think it might be the most powerful movie I’ve ever seen.  It deeply affected me – not in a bad way, but certainly not in a warm-fuzzy way either.

    Lorcán has an us-or-them and it’s-for-the-greater-good sort of mindset, which was built up over a long period of time. He believes what he does will be beneficial in the long run, even so he detests his profession. Through his relationships with Mayra and other characters, the doubt he’s always had at the back of his mind slowly spills out. He wants ‘freedom’ and ‘peace’ but the problem with that is that he has always been taught that it’s ‘the other side’ that’s the issue, which means ‘the other side’ have to go. Bottom line is – lots of people have to die if you want to achieve ultimate peace and freedom. That’s how war starts and genocides occur. And its his ultimate realisation later on in the series that its all a lie, that he doesn’t hate and doesn’t want to hate ‘the other side’, he’s just being used for war and that genocide is the endgame, that causes him to just crack and decide he wants no part in it. He is going to achieve peace the righteous way.

    I LOVE THIS!  This is such a fantastic arc for him, and it makes so much sense for his character.  I actually never knew that he despises his profession, but again, it makes a lot of sense.  He’s built up this cold and arrogant wall to shield him from the horrible reality of what he’s actually doing 🙁  I especially love that part about Lorcan deciding to achieve peace the righteous way!  It’s just such a touching end for his arc, plus it’s also a kind of scary reminder of just how easily people can be led to justify evil if their goal is “good…”

    *laughs as one fey*

    #153133
    Neasa
    @irishcelticredflowercrown

    @calidris

    I also think that part of the issue is that main characters tend to be really boring and unlikable.  I think in some cases, people do gravitate towards morally gray or even straight up villainous characters just because they’re dark, but I also think that these characters are just generally really interesting!  I think that there’s kind of this expectation sometimes that an MC has to be a good role model, and so sometimes authors don’t give them opportunities to really mess up and show an uglier side.  Again, it’s something that Haikyuu did so well – the main characters were incredibly flawed, but they were interesting, and you knew that they would grow from their mistakes instead of just ignoring them.  Also, I think when people idolize a character, they might be less likely to admit they’ve done something wrong because they’ve actually attached a part of their own identity to that character (You can see this in real life too with politics and celebrity culture.)

    That’s an excellent point, I actually never thought of that! But it makes sense seeing as most of the heroes and heroines written in fiction nowadays are bland and have no personality lol. And you’re right about the idolizing, there are people who will literally start fights when someone insults their favourite character :/

    Also btw is the anime any good?  I need something new to watch XD

    It is good ya, I never realised I needed a Viking anime until now. The characters are really well-written and plus its a fascinating time-period. It is quite violent, but that’s because it’s whole story is about realising how pointless revenge is and that violence is not the way to become a true warrior. If violence isn’t your thing, then maybe skip it. Also I will mention that I am quite disappointed in its portrayal of Christianity. There’s a lot of scenes that really made me want to smack my head against the wall, like there’s a priest who turns to heresy and another character decides to rebel against God. He’s all like yeah sometimes I think about God up there in paradise, with literally no problems, and you know what, I HATE IT!!! Down with God!

    Umm okay.

    That being said I do think its probably historically accurate for the time period. A lot of people would have had a very simplistic view of God like if you don’t pray you go straight to hell sort of thing. And it was a violet time too, so I can understand why people’s understanding of faith would get skewed.

    You hit the nail on the head!  I think in my case, I used to glorify violence perpetrated by the protagonists in my earlier writing, and I think that’s probably a huge reason why I now avoid writing it.

    I will say, after writing my recent post, I’ve realized that there actually more potential instances of violence in my story than I remembered.  Right now, my protagonists are pretty peaceful, but an issue of self-defense might come up at some point.  For now, I know I’m sticking to non-lethal violence (at the bare minimum,) and I’ll have to pray about the rest 🙂

    I totally get that, its good that you decided that 🙂

    Honestly, I could say the same for you and Lorcan – I’m so glad you’re tackling the subject of war and tyranny in your writing!  I feel like in Christian fantasy, there’s kind of this tendency to have the “good” side and the “bad” side, and they both always act accordingly.  Whatever violence the good side uses is justified, because they’re fighting pure evil.  I’m not saying that all stories with this format are bad (in fact, I think that they can be really great allegories, like the Chronicles of Narnia,) but imo governments in real life always hold some degree of corruption because they’re lead by sinful people.  Obviously some forms of government are way worse than others, but there is never a true “good” side when dealing with humans, and I’d love to see more Christian fiction tackle that!

    I absolutely agree it should be shown more. There is definitely room for the stories with good sides and bad sides, but portraying the realities of war from the human perspective is also so important. There is actually also an ultimate battle between good and evil at the heart of TLC, which is what is driving the war and hatred in that world. So ya there will be that too 🙂

    By the way, have you seen 1917 by any chance?  I just watched it with my family (as of finishing up this response XD,) and I think you’d really like it!  I have to preface this by saying that there were some graphic scenes, a lot of swearing (including f-bombs and using the Lord’s name in vain) as well as an inappropriate joke I never actually picked up on (the movie is rated R.)  That being said, it’s a phenomenal movie, and a very powerful portrayal of the realities of war (my dad mentioned that they actually probably toned it down – which I agree with.)  It was brutal and heart-wrenching, but it was also (imo) tastefully done.  It’s not a movie I could recommend to everyone (because of the content issues,) but I know that you like darker/realistic portrayals of war, and I figured you might be interested!  I think it might be the most powerful movie I’ve ever seen.  It deeply affected me – not in a bad way, but certainly not in a warm-fuzzy way either.

    I did watch it and I really like it! I love how it was shot to make it look like it was all done in one take and I particularly loved the ending, I thought it was so moving. Very powerful especially when it makes you realise that this was exactly what the boys and men went through, on both sides. I also like Fury, have you seen it? I think its very poignant, it does a good job of humanising Allied and German soldiers. There’s a scene in it that hit hard – where one character is forced to kill a German soldier and its framed in a very horrible way that makes you realise most of the Germans were just ordinary people. I had relatives fighting on both sides of the war – both world wars actually – so I really connected with that film. I think my family being involved back then is probably another reason why I’m so drawn to portraying the complicated realities of war.

    I LOVE THIS!  This is such a fantastic arc for him, and it makes so much sense for his character.  I actually never knew that he despises his profession, but again, it makes a lot of sense.  He’s built up this cold and arrogant wall to shield him from the horrible reality of what he’s actually doing 🙁  I especially love that part about Lorcan deciding to achieve peace the righteous way!  It’s just such a touching end for his arc, plus it’s also a kind of scary reminder of just how easily people can be led to justify evil if their goal is “good…”

    Thanks! 🙂 I just hope I manage to do it without suddenly making him really bland – that would be the worst! I probably won’t hopefully, because he has a pretty difficult future ahead of him, which I can’t wait to write about. That reminder is definitely what I’m going for with his character, its gonna be quite an emotional arc and I can’t wait for people to read it XD

    #155517
    Ragnarok
    @ragnarok

    @irishcelticredflowercrown

    It’s just my opinion, but I believe a morally gray character should have a reason for his/her actions. These actions should also be in character and not simply there for the sake of having a morally gray character. And in the end, said character should not be the same person they were in the beginning of the story. They have to change and become better people. There should be meaning in what they do and who they are.

    Examples: potential spoiler alert. You have been warned.

    Batman: Arkham Origins: The game is a prequel to the other games, going over the origins of the Batman and the villains. Immediately, the player can see that this Batman is aggressive and far more violent than his future self, with his only moral being no killing. This is for various reasons. A) he has only been Batman for a little less than a year and is inexperienced, B) he is still grieving over the death of his parents, and C) he has OCD and is constantly tempted to physically harm criminals. When the Joker and Bane are introduced, he immediately lashes out and even starts to beat a defenseless Joker. It is only a little later in the story that he starts changing, coming to the uncomfortable realization that he and the Joker are not that different. He tries to calm down and hold back in order to not become like the Joker and serve as an example to others, even putting his own life on the line to avoid killing Bane. He attempts to become a genuinely good person and tries to be better than his base urges.

    In this example, the protagonist starts as a flawed individual, like all people are. But in the course of the story, they start to change into better people. They act as inspirations, IF they are interpreted correctly. If you cannot see the meaning in a morally gray character, then you may want to avoid that archetype.

    Other times, if you bring up a character who starts to resort to debatable actions without changing (anti-heroes mostly), there is a very high chance you will kill them off at the end of their arc.

    Examples: Spoilers. You have been warned.

    Death Note: the protagonist, Light, discovers a mysterious notebook that allows him to kill anyone he pleases by simply writing their name in it. An entity (quite possibly a demon in my opinion) explains the rules of death note to him, adding that when the time is right, he will write Light’s name in the death note. After many adventures, where the viewer can see Light’s mental stability start to descend, he is pursued by the police for all the murders he’s committed. All of his allies are either dead or arrested and he is the last one standing. He retreats to a warehouse, where he begs the entity (possible demonic entity) for help. But said entity says that Light’s life is over, before writing his name in the death note. In the manga, Light begs for his life, exclaiming he doesn’t want to die. However, he dies shortly afterward, in the same manner his victims did.

    In the second example, the protagonist became so saturated in his sins that he was not likely to get a redemption arc. Even after being warned that he would die if he continued on his path, he continued to descend. This sends the message that you are not supposed to remain the same person, but are meant to grow. Unlike Light, who deteriorated and fell because of his choices.

    You can only come to the morning through shadows: Tolkien

    #155519
    Neasa
    @irishcelticredflowercrown

    @ragnarok

    Hi there! Thanks for joining in 🙂

     

    It’s just my opinion, but I believe a morally gray character should have a reason for his/her actions. These actions should also be in character and not simply there for the sake of having a morally gray character. And in the end, said character should not be the same person they were in the beginning of the story. They have to change and become better people. There should be meaning in what they do and who they are.

    I totally agree with that statement. Character motivation is something lacking in a lot of literature today, and oftentimes the morally grey character doesn’t have real motivations, he or she is just morally grey for absolutely no reason.

    I love the examples you set out, I find that the Batman character in Arkham Origins sounds very similar to my own character Lorcán. He starts off broken, resorting to bad deeds because he believes he is obligated to do them. He has an important character growth throughout the story, coming to realise that there is a better path for him to take.

    The Death Note example is also interesting, and I think its a great way to show how evil can corrupt those who with questionable morals. That sounds like the negative character arc, which I am following at the moment for one of my characters who will begin as a hero, makes bad decisions, and will eventually fall because of those decisions.

    Are you writing a morally grey character at the moment?

     

    #155521
    Ragnarok
    @ragnarok

    @irishcelticredflowercrown

    I find that the Batman character in Arkham Origins sounds very similar to my own character Lorcán. He starts off broken, resorting to bad deeds because he believes he is obligated to do them. He has an important character growth throughout the story, coming to realize that there is a better path for him to take.

    Good, that’s what a gray character starts out as. Character growth should be the main focus of the story (there are a few exceptions, mainly with antiheroes).

    The Death Note example is also interesting, and I think its a great way to show how evil can corrupt those who with questionable morals. That sounds like the negative character arc, which I am following at the moment for one of my characters who will begin as a hero, makes bad decisions, and will eventually fall because of those decisions.

    While that is what I was trying to point out, I think the Protagonist of Death Note falls better into the fallen hero or antihero category (which would require an entirely different discussion). I brought him up here as an example of how a gray character can easily become an evil individual.

    Are you writing a morally grey character at the moment?

    I have a few gray characters and concepts for gray characters. The ones I’m focused on right now are named Hades Irving and Sherlock Holmes (who’s birth name is Sage Lore Longwei).

    Sherlock is currently on the villain side of gray characters. He’s in a fantasy setting and is part dragon. His objective is to destroy society, because he blames it for the death of his parents. His power is aether and he is a detective, but his behavior is considered anti-social and overall malicious.

    Hades is on the hero side of gray characters. He’s technically an alien and is in a sci-fi setting. He was raised as a knight, but he started to descend when a war started (during which he became a black knight, following most of the code of honor but loyal to no master). He has reasonably good intentions, but he uses his aggression as a weapon.

    Ah yes, just another day in the office.

    You can only come to the morning through shadows: Tolkien

    #155671
    Emily Waldorf
    @emily-waldorf

    I think it is important to not leave the audience (reader/viewer) feeling confused or muddy. As long as real right and wrong are clearly portrayed–nit only portrayed, but given emotional backing–I don’t see a problem with morally grey characters. To get specific, I think that to have a really “protagonistic” protagonist they need to fall on the right side of the moral line, at least by the end of the story.

    Quoth the raven, "Nevermore!"
    https://silverpenstrokes.wordpress.com

    #155679
    The Inkspiller
    @the-inkspiller

    As someone who writes almost exclusively morally gray characters, I feel obligated to comment. Not to defend the mainstream use of morally gray characters, who are mostly just buttholes who happen to be shooting at socially designated bad guys, but in defense of complex, flawed characters.

    The truth is that most people, even Christians, are or would have once qualified as morally gray characters. Anyone who has struggled with sin knows what it’s like to believe one thing and do just the opposite. Like @Ragnarok said, a good morally gray character is one who grows from their flawed origins to overcome their weaknesses. Like @irishcelticredflowercrown said, it’s a hard sell to expect the audience to like a character who has done objectively terrible things. The challenge, the art in that, is conveying the sinner’s journey – showing what it’s like to be that person, to face your sins and learn to live with the awful things you’ve done as the new person you’re praying God will help you grow into.

    Non nobis Domine, sed nomini, Tuo da gloriam.

    #156963
    BookDragon
    @bookdragon

    I differ with a lot of people on this topic. The main reason for this is that it seems like media is saturated with horrible people that we’re told to like because their hearts are in the right place. I hate that. When I read about horrible people, I want them to get what they deserve, or to see them redeemed. When I write, I want to give my readers permission to hate the villains. It doesn’t seem fair not to. We’ve also gotten to the point where relatable villains are no longer new, surprising, or interesting unless done really well. That seems to defeat the purpose of grey characters.

    Long story short, I love that you don’t want to glorify wrong actions. That seems responsible to me, and it also leaves room for redemption without forcing it. And I agree, the grey character trope isn’t always a good idea.

    "In a world full of bookworms, be a book dragon."
    - he who made the T-shirt

    #157104
    Tabitha
    @tabitha

    Good discussion and question!

    I just had to add in my personal pet peeve. Most of the time in a story, I want a resolution where good wins. And I think a strength of fantasy is that it tends to make good and evil clearer than most genres. When it’s clear in the story, then later the story’s principles and themes get applied in my life in more subtle and harder decisions.

    When there is no clear protagonist for the reader to cheer for –just a bunch of morally ambiguous characters, then the ending is going to disappoint me. I probably shouldn’t analyze Game of Thrones when I haven’t watched it, but my interpretation is that you had a bunch of morally ambiguous characters fighting over the throne with the only possibly heroic one of the bunch (Ned Stark) killed off in the first season. Thus, because there is no clear good hero, there is no satisfaction when the throne is won because the reader didn’t know who to cheer for to win the throne. Thus, the audience complains about the person who does win the throne, and the author struggles to finish the series because the resolution isn’t “surprising yet inevitable”.

    So along with this fad of morally ambiguous characters, I also see a connected fad for vague resolutions. I’m okay with morally ambiguous characters in a book, but I want the resolution to show good wins (or if bad wins, then it is a tragedy).

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