Will He or Won’t She: Moral Ambiguity

Okay we’re up to this week’s second quickie entry. These shortened entries seem funny to me given the sheer amount of words I’ve been writing over the last few days; it’s just that I have to put all that effort into the book which, by the way, is shaping up quite nicely. I tied the bow on the climactic scene yesterday evening, and am solidly into the falling action, with a few little revelations remaining that start building steam into the sequel. Knowing how the sequel opens gives me an enormous advantage in setting things up. I think I’ll keep that in mind when writing series in the future.

I’ve also been doing some research on marketing the book, and taking some notes. My plan is solidifying itself, and I can confidently say that in the next few weeks I’ll be opening up the official site for the “Dead” series, with the first being, of course, Corridors of the Dead. The site will include an in-depth description of the premise behind the series as well as the synopsis of the first novel, eventually a sample chapter, and, when the time comes, links to pick up your own copy. I’m planning a slow roll-out on this thing because, let’s face it, I’m one guy, and I still have two-and-a-half months before I plan to get this out. It’s still really exciting, and I look forward to the challenge of learning all these new things.

So, let’s take a look at the topic that was on my mind for today: how to fit moral ambiguity into the framework of a story. Keep in mind that I’m not really talking about the antihero here. There’s definitely a place for talking about the concept, but at the moment I’m sick to death of it. Call it 90s fatigue. I’ve been swinging back around toward more traditional protagonists these days, people who are flawed but basically good and come to realize that that’s pretty much an okay way to be – I mean, that’s pretty much Matty. What I’m more interested in today is the moral ambiguity of secondary characters and how that can influence a story.

For instance, one of the main supporting characters in Corridors of the Dead is pretty much an alien, though not in the traditional sense of the word. His morality, especially, is foreign to humanity, though he has lived among humans long enough to make it resemble the Western Code of morality. He comes across as one of the “good guys“, but when push comes to shove, he is capable of making the sort of decisions that might paralyze a normal person. You can see why this might be useful from a storytelling point-of-view, and it’s precisely the reason I never allowed him to do that sort of thing – it could very easily become a crutch, and I don’t want to use one. The only real remaining sign of it is his preternatural calm during high-stress situations.

I think that these characters can provide interesting foils to the protagonist. For example, if the protagonist is struggling over the morality of killing someone, the ambiguous character could push them over the edge toward something else. Or their opposition to a plan can provide some good dramatic tension in just the right point, making the opposing viewpoint a little more seductive. Just something to think about – that moral ambiguity can provide a good lever to explore avenues you hadn’t considered.

I actually have a lot more to say about this, and I think once things calm down I’ll write a whole lot more about it, drawing in the concept of the anti-hero, but for now, this will have to suffice.

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