1. Simon Price

    Simon Price Active Member

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    The ethics of my character's superpower and writing a sympathetic user of it

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Simon Price, Nov 24, 2018.

    So I have a bit of an issue with getting my book moving, and that's regarding my main character and his newfound superpower which is kiiiiiinda morally dubious to be playing around with, and my efforts to construct a personality for him that would make him likable and sympathetic without making him difficult to write an interesting story around.

    Essentially my main character, an 18 year old boy named Keaton Reed, has full access to the live sensory input of any of the last three people he's touched. At any time and from any distance, as long as somebody is one of the three people he's most recently made physical contact with, he can flip a switch in his mind and suddenly see, hear, touch, taste and smell absolutely everything that person is seeing, hearing, touching, tasting and smelling. He can also do the reverse, and allow other people to experience all of his sensory input as well, and he can do both at once, but not with two different people. In both cases, this doesn't override the subject's natural sensory input; they have access to both at once and can choose which one they focus on (or attempt, generally with decent success, to focus on both), though they can't completely ignore either one as long as it's active.

    Basically he can use anyone he touches as a human full-sensory spycam. Which is, obviously, a massive, massive invasion of privacy, to the point that, as one character points out, merely having this power would probably make him a social pariah if word ever got out. Which means actually using the power outside of emergencies, just using it for fun, is pretty damn shady and, as I currently see it, pushing the boundaries of acceptable character flaws for a hero.

    Essentially, the use of this power, for any purpose no matter how simple or benign, is a violation of someone's rights in some shape or form, unless it's for an emergency or in the name of something really important. But I'm finding that I'm having to jump through a lot of hoops and basically having him spend a lot of the beginning of the story being a victim of blackmail in order to justify circumstances for having him use it, and obviously having moral issues with using his power would make it difficult to justify screwing around with it to figure out the actual details of how it works. So I'm wondering if maybe I'm being too strict with my protagonist's moral code out of fear of crossing a line with this sketchy power and writing an unsympathetic character.

    So I was wondering if I could get some feedback about your personal opinions on when this character has a moral right to use this power, and how much abuse of it you'd personally be willing to either brush off as harmless, or forgive if he later grows out of it into a more responsible person. I'd rather not color your thoughts by elaborating on my current perception to this thread, but if anyone feels that might be helpful, I might reconsider.
     
    Last edited: Nov 24, 2018
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  2. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributor Contributor

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    So this is definitely too complicated for me to talk properly about in full detail right before bed, but I can tell you
    • You've given yourself a lot of material to work with for every single scene where he's ever deciding whether to use his power or not ;)
    • Readers don't always have a problem with Villain Protagonists :twisted: especially if we see them start off as relatively decent people but then fall further and further from grace
     
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  3. Infel

    Infel Contributor Contributor

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    I think this is an extremely interesting concept and power, and I'd be excited to see where you take it. I don't think you should focus on whether its objectively, or even morally right to use such a superpower: Batman misuses his resources all the time for the sake of doing good. I think a the gold nugget you have here is having your protagonist use the power in a bunch of different circumstances and have him draw his own conclusions on when and when-not to use it. That sounds like an amazing story. I think there are plenty of situations where he can use it for GOOD--for example, you mentioned it can be reversed. You could easily have your protag throwing himself into dangerous situations for the sake of gathering data that someone important (like an FBI agent or whatever) is seeing--make himself some sort of live camera. He's his own wire-tap if he ever needed to be an undercover cop, with absolutely no way of getting found out as long as he doesn't touch anyone.

    ...also, I imagine the sex is incredible.

    ...also on the subject of sex and the importance of consent, I bet he could do a ton of awesome things as long as the three people consent to have this power used on them. He can be the hive mind, the data center of three walking spy cameras that nobody could prove without knowledge of his power.

    ...why are you here asking questions!? Go write this story so I can read it!
     
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  4. seira

    seira Member

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    Something I would think about is: Is this super power something important to the plot? and more importantly with it help/hinder him and how? Foreshadow ways it might hinder him later on. Maybe he sees/hears something he wouldn't want. A girlfriend is someone he'll have physical contact with a lot. So maybe look for a way to show the good and bad of his power and remember limitations are far more interesting to read about as their create conflict. He needs conflict with his powers, give him feels about them. Like I said sometimes they are useful and other times not so much. Not nice to hear other people having a negative conversation about you, see your girlfriend cheat on you, or smell the house of a serial killer that's hiding dead bodies. So there is lots of things you can do with this power.
     
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  5. Alan Aspie

    Alan Aspie Banned Contributor

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    You are making him too perfect. Superhero needs to have some of super weakness.

    "He can flip a switch in his mind"... boring. Too everything.

    "He can't control his superpower. It has control over him." Hmmm... Interesting. Now you start to get a story. He is not allmighty and 18 but troubled kid and powers this trouble has.

    "He can.. ..allow other people to experience all of his sensory input as well." Boring, boring, boring.

    "He can't hide all of his his own sensory input from lates touched person - the strongest inputs leak and this latest person experiences it as a weird hallucination..." Much more interesting.

    Now you get multilayered moral and plot twists.
     
  6. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Lying, dog-faced pony Marine Supporter Contributor

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    "Touched." Skin to skin, or his skin to their clothing, or what exactly?

     
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  7. Simon Price

    Simon Price Active Member

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    Skin to skin contact. And yes, what you described could happen.
     
  8. psychotick

    psychotick Contributor Contributor

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    Hi,

    I think you're looking at this wrong in terms of morality. His ability isn't necessarily wrong to use - at least in viewing what other people view. The rest of it gets iffy. But with that what you're claiming to be the morally right choice is for him to walk around with his metaphorical eyes closed. Is he spying? Yes. But that's a natural state of being for him. Where the morals come in is with what he does with that information.

    So at the simplest level, you walk around the streets and at some point you happen to spy a couple through a window engaged in intimate acts. Do you continue to watch? Or do you avert your gaze and walk on. At some point your character is tempted to stay and watch. Now he becomes a voyeur.

    And so on.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
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  9. GingerCoffee

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    You have a character and an important aspect with a catch.

    In your description, you are lacking a story. Figure out what your story's about and it will almost certainly solve your dilemma.
     
  10. Simon Price

    Simon Price Active Member

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    I have a story, sorry if I gave the impression that I didn't. It's just as I see it the specific story isn't relevant to this thread. What I'm looking for is, as I said "some feedback about your personal opinions on when this character has a moral right to use this power, and how much abuse of it you'd personally be willing to either brush off as harmless, or forgive if he later grows out of it into a more responsible person."

    I'm trying to gauge how much morally-dubious usage of his power I could have him get away with without permanently losing audience sympathy, so I can gauge how carefully I need to tread in the beginning when the stakes are low and he's just messing around or trying to learn how it works before he gets into the high-stakes situations that blatantly justify use of the power.

    If you were reading a book about a character with such a power, how far would he have to go before you personally would feel he'd need some sort of redemption arc or personal growth away from it, and how far would he have to go before you personally would totally lose sympathy for him?
     
  11. GingerCoffee

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    The story is quite relevant. Kind of hard to comment about your moral question without knowing what the story is about.
     
  12. samgallenberger

    samgallenberger Member

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    You could have your character be (or become) really paranoid and that's a misguided but somewhat justifiable way of using the abilities. It sounds really interesting, I like the concept.
     
  13. MusingWordsmith

    MusingWordsmith Shenanigan Master Contributor

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    Honestly when I saw this title I expected something different. This is basically just souped up spying, and when you get into the 'us vs them' sort of situations like there is with cops/criminals or heroes/villains, spying is really heckin' useful.

    Really though when it comes down to it, you're asking us for permission to write this. Don't worry about us. Write the book how you feel it'd best be written. Write it for the people who won't get offended and toss the book across the room when it comes to 'unethical' use of this superpower. It's a good power, and I'd read it. :D
     

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