creative writing · Editing Tips · Writing · Writing Tips

Morally Gray Characters

My favorite character from my current WIP is a morally gray one, and this is something I find fascinating since I usually have a soft spot for my main character. I realized that perhaps the main reason why I’m drawn to this character so much is because I feel a sort of relatedness to him that I can’t feel with my villain or even my protagonist. His intentions are good, but the way he goes about executing his plans only reveal that he’s not as good as he claims to be. But anyway, none of us are 100% good (even if we wanted to be), and I’d like to think none of us are 100% evil. So why should the characters we create be placed in the “good” or “evil” category? Simply put, it’s unrealistic.

I’m a believer that morality has to be in the center of our decisions and actions, and portraying that through our fictional characters should be no different. There needs to be a reason for them to choose right versus wrong (or vice versa), and morally gray characters show us the struggle that as living human beings we are sometimes afraid to show the world: that even though we say we are good, our actions might prove otherwise. Call it greed, jealousy, or any other deadly sin you want to name, but the truth is that gray morality is part of our story and so, it should also be part of our characters’.

Just some food for thought here…

Who are some of your favorite morally gray characters?

7 thoughts on “Morally Gray Characters

  1. I agree that a certain moral nobility is an ideal to strive for. I, too, find my characters often struggling to rise above the frustrations of trying to be “good” people. The fact that they (and we) often fail makes them all the more human.

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  2. Excellent advice, Giuli! A favourite morally grey character of mine is Lee Child’s Jack Reacher; he never hesitates to help an innocent person in need, but the vigilante comeuppance he dishes out to the villains often gets reproved by the people he’s saving because of his violent sense of justice. Ultimately he’s trying to do the right thing & does care deeply about innocent people, but the ways in which he rights wrongs are still meant to make us somewhat uneasy with our own sense of fair play. Great post! 🙂

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  3. The main character in the novel “Dog,” by Michelle Herman, muses about this. She thinks the person who fostered her dog before she adopted him was doing a good thing by helping the dogs, but going about it the wrong way by keeping them in kennels…these kinds of situations can indeed cause some interesting cognitive dissonance, both in real life and in fiction.

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