1. Daniel
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    Daniel I'm sure you've heard the rumors. Founder Staff Contributor

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    having characters make morally questionable decisions

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Daniel, Apr 6, 2007.

    I'm beating myself up over this cause I had the scenario all played out in my mind - then I forgot it. However, that's irrelevant.

    My question is basically, what is your opinion on making a character make a morally questionable decision? I don't mean things like murder and such, but things that have a much larger impact.

    Hard to explain at the moment (I'm dead tired) but I hope that's enough, for now, for some of your opinions.

    Thanks,
     
  2. zerobytes
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    zerobytes Contributing Member

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    Depends on the result or purpose of the decision. If you have a main character/hero make a poor moral choice that could actually breath humanity into him/her. Tons of classics use this element. See the collected works of Dickens, Arthur Miller, Victor Hugo, etc. A perfect example of this immorality dilemma is Jane Eyre - the whole story is about a poor moral decision and how the two main characters have to overcome it. Then again, if it's just to add some sex or violence to a story I think it'll be more damaging to the integrity of your character. Of course, it will also get readers more interested....tough decision. Good luck (and hope you get some rest)

    Cheers,

    ZB
     
  3. Corleone
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    Corleone Member

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    I like the idea, like the person above me said, it gives them a more human touch. Everyone makes mistakes, people go against morals. Of course, this descion may make the reader dislike the character, but I personally don't need to like the main character to enjoy a novel.

    Anyone seen "Raging Bull"? The main character is that movie is horrible, yet it's one of my favourite films. Just a strong example for me.
    Hope you have a nice sleep.
     
  4. Domoviye
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    Domoviye Contributing Member

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    Is it in character? And is it logical?
    Those are the only things that should matter.
     
  5. Roxie
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    Roxie Active Member

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    In almost every piece of writing our characters make moral decisions. It's up to us to weave it out to their advantage or disavantage. What helps me figure out the impact these decison will have is to see if I personally or other readers would be able find themselves making the same choices, walking the same line of the charater I am building.

    Hope this helps.
     
  6. Daniel
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    Daniel I'm sure you've heard the rumors. Founder Staff Contributor

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    Thanks for the replies.

    I'd like to stress I'm not talking about "smaller" moral decisions. Not sex, drugs, murder. But like mass murder or genocide or torture or the more extreme sort of thing. I think the same principles still apply though.
     
  7. Ferret
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    Ferret Contributing Member

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    The parts of your soul you refuse to recognize.
    Depends is your character a sadistic son of a bitch, or just a mislead fanatic? If your character is willing to do anything to achive thier goal becasue they belevie it to that important, or, to them noble, it is quite alright.
     
  8. Daniel
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    Daniel I'm sure you've heard the rumors. Founder Staff Contributor

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    I'd considered this. I was mostly talking about the latter. Say the person in question is ethical and kind, but feels it's "necessary" to do something immoral. Hope that makes sense.
     
  9. Evelyn
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    Evelyn Senior Member

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    "You can't make an omelette without breaking some eggs." - J.I.Stalin

    (Almost) no one will admit to being a sadistic son of a bitch*, but great damage is & has been done by people doing what was necessary For The Cause.

    Pol Pot, Ho Chi Min, Mao (& Madame Mao), Stalin, Lenin - they didn't starve torture and kill people for no good reason, it was all to further the People's Revolution(s).

    Hitler thought his "Final Solution" was really better for the Jews (and homosexuals, gypsies and handicapped people) in the long run.

    Torquemada & The Spanish Inquisition? A little mortification of the temporal body was but small price to pay for bringing the soul to Christ. The same reasoning, slightly reworded, goes for the Christian Crusades.

    And the Romans who crucified Jesus? They weren't especially out to torture him (heck, they crucified people all the time), and certainly weren't out to start a new religion - they were just trying to get rid of someone they considered a dangerous (and presumably misled) fanatic.


    - Evelyn


    *Herman Melville observes that no man will admit to being rich or asleep, either. Go figure :)
     
  10. HeinleinFan
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    HeinleinFan Banned

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    A good exercise for this is the Joe Question. How your character answers shows a lot about him / her.

    You know of a man named Joe. He has no family; he lives alone. Every day he goes to work and walks his dog. In his liver, you have discovered, is a special kind of bacterial infection that will cure cancer - all kinds. His liver is fighting off the infection and will kill the cancer-curing bacteria within a day.

    The only way to get that cancer cure is to kill Joe. There is no other way; bureaucracy, writing of wills, et cetera will cause a delay. For my purposes, you found this out in some way that made the knowledge conditional - if you kill him, you may never explain why to the world, or the cure will cease to be. You will probably go to jail; you may even be sentenced to death. Perhaps someone will one day realize why you killed him, if that is your choice; but the odds are against it. You will probably be vilified by the press. But the autopsy people will find the cure, and take the credit while saving lives.

    Now. Do you kill Joe? Do you let the chance pass?

    If you think you must kill Joe, does your decision change if the 'cure' only works for ten years? If the 'cure' is limited and can only save a million people, or a hundred thousand, or a hundred? Would you kill Joe if only two people would live, but one of them was a super-genious like Einstein or Newton?

    If you choose not to kill Joe, would you do so if he were going to die in a week from a car crash? What if all you had to do was cut off an arm or a leg? What would you do if all you had to do was cause Joe pain for half an hour (like the worst headache you've ever had)? What if all you had to do was cut his hair, but it was deeply against his religion?

    * * *
    This sort of mental exercise shows you who your characters are - and, to an extent, who you are.

    I personally would kill Joe to save more than 100,000 people. Any less than that and I would not take action. The division line is arbitrary but necessary. I hope this does not mean I am a bad person.

    Sci-fi (Robert Heinlein) readers - remember the Four who are present at every muster? Dahlquist! Martin! Riviera! Wheeler! I think Riviera's example is the one I follow here.
     
  11. Evelyn
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    Evelyn Senior Member

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    I think I would not kill Joe, rationalizing (and, yes, it would be a rationalization) that if the bacteria were in his liver, they'd have to be in a few other people's livers, and would sooner or later turn up in somebody's autopsy.

    But hang on a minute before you put me in for sainthood...

    If someone personally very important to me (not Einstein, not Ghandhi, not even necessarily anyone of any importance to anyone but me) were on his deathbed and needed that cure right away, I would try to bait and harass and goad Joe into making an attempt on my own life so that I could kill him then.
    (And if I thought killing his dog would make him want to kill me, I would not hesitate there.)


    I'd let him die in the car crash.

    As for the amputation, headache or haircut; I think I would sit down with Joe and see what could be done to persuade him, including any threats or bribes I had available.
    If that didn't work, I'd let him keep his limbs and hair, but wouldn't mind subjecting him to the headache.


    Does that make me a bad person?
    (It sounds like it makes me a manipulative person with a penchant for finessing the rules. I guess you guys are warned :)


    - Evelyn
     
  12. HeinleinFan
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    HeinleinFan Banned

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    *laughs a little*

    Don't worry, Evelyn; the point of the question is to show how a character can make a "morally wrong" decision that is, from their point of view, "morally right."

    It's also a fun question if you want to talk about philosophy, and you can justify both sides depending on your moral standpoint.
     
  13. Tinja
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    Tinja Member

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    I have one character who is a slut, honestly. I hate her. And i think she makes BAD decision all the time. It's just how she "wants" things to go, and sounds the best in written and good in every way. And i do have often hard time not to delete all those things and make her more smarter. But it wouldn't be her. U know what I mean.
     
  14. Acglaphotis
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    Acglaphotis Contributing Member

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    That Joe post should have it's own thread. Very interesting.
     
  15. TheFedoraPirate
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    TheFedoraPirate Contributing Member

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    Yeah ... I think me n' Joe will just go grab a pizza and a couple o' beers.
     
  16. inkslinger
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    inkslinger Contributing Member

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    I agree about that Joe post. Really interesting stuff. Definitely deserves its own thread.

    Honestly, I don't think it would be justified harming Joe seriously unless I knew completely he was the key to the curing of cancer... how can you be so sure? But then, how can you not? Heh.
     
  17. Yukarangz
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    Yukarangz New Member

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    No one ever believes that they are acting wrongly. Evil happens when a perspective is skewed, by madness or a strong belief, so that the act is seen as justified or even right. Because everyone sees the world in a different way it's hard to define morals and ethics. Some people will always find reasons to break the code.

    As for your character, what motivates them? The decision they make will be based on their strongest beliefs and values. Either way, it's the consequences of those actions that will make the most difference to the character.

    I hope you find the answer you're looking for.

    That 'Joe' question would make for an interesting debate. :)
     
  18. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    Like an idea I had the other day. You catch a glimpse of the future, and it is horrible. A nuclear war or something. The only way to prevent it is by killing a whole people, because they are responsible for it. Like let's say Muslims, Jw's, or some group that is prone to fanaticism. You know the only way to stop it is by killing most of them. What do you do? And you know for a fact you saw a real future.

    Do you try to stop them some other way, or come up with a way to kill them all. Or do you let the future play out, and the nuclear war kills most all humans.
     
  19. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    Oh come to think of it, God Emperor of Dune had such a dilemma. The golden path. All humans would go extinct, so he enslaved the galaxy to prevent that. Well not really enslaved, but he became the galactic dictator. It was necessary in order to save humans.
     
  20. Carthonn
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    Carthonn Active Member

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    When good people's lives hang in the balance based on one persons decision I think that scenario, when done well, can have several paths the reader can sort of decide. Those paths can be immoral or moral. The character can attempt suicide if the burden is too much, murder everyone in his path or try to find a way to save as many lives as possible. Getting your character in that sort of jam your thinking of is the most important part I think.
     

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