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cross the irredeemable moral line?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by ascanius, Mar 30, 2015.

  1. ascanius

    ascanius Inkling

    This is an idea i've been tossing around and right now don't have plans to include this idea.

    A POV character is introduced, male or female, the character is shown to have had a troublesome past that still affects him but the reader never knows what it is only that something happened to him or by him, lots of questions. As the story progresses the character does the usual character plot arch and changes moral grey lines and all that but is a relatively decent human being who is capable of showing compasion. Then much, much later in the book, after the climax where the POV helps or overcomes the problem it is shown that in his or her past the character did something truely horrific.

    The horrific thing is something that leaves no question that the character is/was a complete monster, no grey line, dr Mengele type stuff. The reader just learns that the character did it not exactly what happened but that they did it.

    How would you the reader react, throughout the story the character is shown to be a decent human being who is trying to change and make a differencme and leave their past behind them, and at the end find out what that past is.

    I think this would be very interesting, especially if the reader gets really involved and really likes the character. It's like an identity crisis for the reader, is the character the same person as the one from their past?

    Seriously where the hell did the exclamation in the thread title come from? I could swear I didn't put it. If it's always been there and I'm only just noticing it spare me and don't tell me.
    Last edited: Mar 30, 2015
  2. Legendary Sidekick

    Legendary Sidekick The HAM'ster Moderator

    It is an indisputable fact that Spike Spiegel is awesome. So awesome that spell-check should keep its greasy red underline away from his surname.

    Anyway, Spike's past is always haunting him in the anime. We know by episode 5 (a.k.a. the awesomest episode of anything) that Spike was part of The Syndicate. We can assume that's a bad thing and Spike did bad things in his past, yet he doesn't stop being awesome.

    Jaime Lannister is so awesome that spell-check gives his oddly-spelled first name a free pass. He was a jerk in book one, and in boo three, he became a likable jerk because he didn't bonk Brienne on the head with an oar. When he lost his hand saving Brienne, Jaime had been unofficially redeemed. Then he was officially redeemed when he jumped in front of the bear to save Brienne.

    Brienne's purpose is to be awesome, of course, but in Jaime's arc she's his reason for redemption. This pisses off TV Cersei because by the time the show is aired, she's read one too many Jaime+Brienne fanfics.

    So which is your character? Is he Spike—who the reader sees as a hero, though the reader also knows as an ex-villain? Or his he Jaime—who the readers sees as a villain, initially, but later the villain redeems himself?

    Spike is easier to read about if the focus is on one main character. Jaime… if he's the only character, it's quite a challenge. You'd have to make him likable enough that people keep reading about him, yet believable as a villain, AND readers would need to be glad he turned around.

    I think what GRRM pulled off is hard to do, and part of the reason he could is because Jaime was one of many POV characters and POV characters in ASoIaF are a mix of good, evil, and morally gray… and any chapter could be that character's last, so if you hate the character, you might get to see the character die. (In other words, hating the POV character isn't the reason you put the book down.)
  3. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

    The trick is deciding if your world is morally absolute.
    If it is, then the character cannot be redeemed and the reader knows it. Any attempts on your part to make it questionable may be a waste.
    If it's not, then the reader can decide for themselves if the character has redeemed himself (the answer will mostly likely be "no" but it's still a question worth asking).

    However, if doesn't matter either way.
    What matters is whether or not the character thinks he can be redeemed. Redemption is a good motive and can make for an interesting character, regardless of where the reader stands when it comes to morality.

    I'm actually playing with a similar idea. My main character's backstory is based on Sauron from Lord of the Rings but later, he decides that he wants to be like the Dalai Lama.
    Last edited: Mar 30, 2015
  4. 2WayParadox

    2WayParadox Sage

    I don't know if you've ever seen the anime called Trigun (http://myanimelist.net/anime/6/Trigun).

    It's quite old, but this statistic: Score: 8.341 (scored by 115195 users), mathemically proves that it's good. If so many people vote and say that it's good, then it just is.

    The story is about a guy named Vash, and he is a magnified version of the character you're envisioning. What I mean by this is his past is worse, his present is plagued, and his behacior is close to saintly. Really, it's a complex story. Something you don't expect from anime.

    If you do decide to watch it, don't be fooled by the first episodes. There's a ton of heart rending stuff in there, and I'm not one who's a particular fan of tragedy, but damn this one got me good.

    I would strongly suggest you to watch this, because it is an example of your idea done well. And you are right in saying that the idea has great potential if done correctly. I'd say do it.
  5. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

    The thing with Vash though is that he was always pretty moral. You could argue that the whole "killing 200,000 people" thing wasn't (entirely) Vash's fault.

    That being said: yeah, ascanius, watch Trigun. It deals a lot with redemption, morality and (more importantly) playing with audience expectation in relation to character morality.

    An interesting note: the creator of the series converted to Catholicism shortly before working on Trigun so a lot of the morals of the show comes from that ethical perspective.
    Going back to what I said in my previous post: Trigun is a morally absolute world where objective redemption is always possible. If the writer says a character is redeemed, they're redeemed. I get the impression you're trying to do something more open to reader interpretation.
  6. X Equestris

    X Equestris Maester

    I actually have been toying with something similar, which I detailed in this thread:

    Though my focus was more on making sure her backstory would be traumatic enough to warrant her reaction.

    The biggest thing factoring in to whether a character can be sympathetic is, in my mind, whether they recognize that whatever they did was wrong and attempt to change. So if your character has done that, I wouldn't say they have crossed the moral event horizon. Someone on that side of the line probably wouldn't try to change.
  7. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

    +1 Every time you mention Spike it makes me happy.

    I don't think Vash is anything like what the OP is describing. Vash is totally lawful good, he's never, ever been a monster.

    Wolfwood might be closer, though the anime never gives a very clear idea of what his past was precisely.
  8. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    If you want to see a monsters trying to make up for the horrible things they've done check out Angle and Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

    Funny thing this made me think of this scene from Shawshank Redemption.

    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 10, 2017
  9. Velka

    Velka Sage

    I LOVE Trigun! The manga and the anime are very different in several ways, but since the July incident is what you're referring to, let me get a little nerdy on that part :) :

    In the manga, the destruction of July wasn't Vash's fault. It happened because Knives tried to set off Vash's dormant powers and that made things go boom (killing 200,000 people).

    In the anime, (under much different circumstances) Knives sets off Vash's dormant powers, but Vash directs it at him causing the destruction of July, but no casualties as his powers only work on inorganic things. Due to the destruction of July, everyone is left homeless and start warring against each other, which does cause a lot of deaths and general awfulness.

    In both cases though, Vash never wanted to destroy July, it was Knives' actions (and hatred of humanity) that caused it.

    But that is totally not the point of this thread. :)

    I'm not sure how I'd feel if I followed a MC through their redemption story and then found out they set a box of puppies on fire (or worse!) before the narrative began. On one hand, it might be a really interesting exploration of forgiveness and the ability to change one's moral compass. On the other hand, I might throw the book down in disgust. Either way it has potential to elicit strong emotional reactions, and make the reader think... and isn't that what we'd like our readers to do?

    Also, I'm unsure of how frustrated I'd feel never knowing what their 'dark past' actually was until the very, very end. If it's hinted and teased at throughout the story, I'd expect it to be revealed earlier.
  10. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

    Interesting. I have a WIP where the MC starts out as morally despicable, torturing humans because he feels they've wronged him when they're really innocent (and one in particular was actually trying to help him before being tortured, which happens during the story). I had actually intended for this character to be the villain, and for another character to be the MC, but then the morally despicable one decided to make a heroic choice which started him on a path toward redemption. It's not an easy road by any means, and he loses about as much as he gains in the end. It's very much an "earn your bittersweet ending" story.
  11. My just finished space opera, Nightfall, is the first in a planned series.
    In the first book we have a former space pirate (he was born to it as the son of the pirate 'king' and his presumed heir).
    Along his travels he bought a slave girl, who turns out to be telepathic (a Scorpian Minddancer). They form a very close psychic link, and over a two year period she draws from him the good side that was never allowed to dominate his personality before then. About the time she ends up pregnant...he decides his child will not be raised the same way he was, and they flee the pirate 'family.' Seven years later they have been living in peace on an independent world...and...let's just say some very bad human excrement occurs. He is forced into once again becoming a Very Bad Person...but this time in order to save his world. So...talk about morally ambiguous! And that's just the Introduction!

  12. Antaus

    Antaus Minstrel

    Something else you have to stop and consider, which is one of the hardest problems with moral lines is there's no hard and fast standard for such a thing. One of the best examples of this is the saying "One man's hero is another man's tyrant." What that means is that something that may be horrific to one person or culture, might be like jaywalking to another. This is only made even more vague by the increasingly popular gray morality, which is like a person coming up with a rational explanation for genocide, and a lot of times if the ends justify the means that makes it acceptable. Something of a frightening thought if you consider it.
  13. ascanius

    ascanius Inkling

    Thanks everyone for your replys even if I didn't respond to you, it got confusing really fast so I cut things down.

    I was thinking more on the hero side, or at least no villian.

    I have a wierd mix of both, it's hard to explain and I haven't quite worked out how i'm going to do this.

    I'll have to check it out, thanks. Yeah I want to go towards something that is completely up to the reader.

    Thank you, Moral Event Horizon. I spent hours trying to figure out what is was called so I just went with the current thread tittle, ok 10 min. I didn't think about how the character viewed it as being right or wrong, I'll have to give it some thought. But what if the character doesn't thin one way or the other, "right or wrong it's in the past and doesn't matter, what matters is what I do now" kinda thing

    Yeah thats what I was think about, but something along the lines of Dr. megele in Auschwitz. I wanted something that without a shadow of doubt is wrong, horrible etc but give the reader time to know who the character is now first.

    I didn't really want to hint at it but establish it firmly at the begining and rienforce it by showing how violence doesn't really bother him and leave it at that...but it might not be the best way to do it.

    That's an interesting progression for a character.

    True but thats why I figured it would have to be something truely horrific, even in the world there are some things that every cultrue find dispicable and wrong.

    One thing I frogot to mention was I was thinking about having this all be background. what I mean is that redmption is not the characters goal and having the plot center elsewhere. Yes the characters past is still a problem for the character and he does change but it's not the driving force. The character isn't acting to redeam his or her self but for other motives, mabey on a few occasions this may happen I don't know.
    Last edited: Mar 31, 2015
  14. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

    For me, what comes to mind is Superior, a very idealistic manga in which the FMC starts out as pretty much Fantasy Hitler. One of the main factors that allows her to be sympathetic is that the story starts with her changing her behavior. To find out more about the hero who's pledged to overthrow her, she secretly accompanies him, and since he avoids violence, she does so as well. She's committed all manner of atrocities in the past, and we see some of them in flashback, but her lack of further violence helps get the audience on her side. I don't think the story would have worked if she'd done any further killing.
  15. BronzeOracle

    BronzeOracle Sage

    There are two things I would need as a reader to like this ending:
    1) Is the monstrous past understandable/relate-able and is it tied in with the theme of the story?
    2) Is the change in character believable?

    On the first question, what was the character's reason for being a monster - is it understandable? Is it relate-able? Is this linked with the overall message of your story (because it is a BIG twist). Would it make me think - oh crap, I could have done that too? Or would I as a reader just think - yuck, that is just way too awful and why the hell did you do that to me??

    [Spoiler for The Last of Us computer game below]

    I recently finished playing The Last of Us on PS4 and it was brilliant. The protaganist Joel is faced with a moral dilemma at the end - should he save a teenage girl with who he has reluctantly formed a deep emotional bond (his daughter died at around the same age) or should he let her be killed by scientists to create a vaccine for a zombie epidemic. He decides the former and proceeds to kill off anyone who tries to stop him, no matter what their pleas for the greater good. At the end of the game she asks him what happened and he looks her in the eye and lies.

    Its a big holy <xx> moment because I've just been playing this guy for how many hours. And now he's doomed humanity.

    Why did he do this? He did it because deep down he needed an emotional reason to keep surviving in that horrible post-apocalyptic world and she had become that reason. Without her he had nothing. So stuff the rest of humanity (who he'd seen the worst of over a period of 20 years) he was going to look after his own.

    His actions to survive and his need for human connection were consistent with the whole theme of the game, it was reiterated time and time again and was set in the context of the horrific deprivation, loss and violence in which humanity had descended. It was one of the few games I've played in which I felt that the extreme violence actually meant something.

    It made me look at myself and wonder - would I have done the same as Joel? And I really couldn't say. It was a story that posed a strong moral question about myself and my kind. Bravo!

    On the second question - is it believable? I think this is also important. Is it believable that after being so monstrous that the character could be so nice. Why the change? This needs to be handled very sensitively as I think about faces can be jarring and turn the reader off.

    I found this with Anakin Skywalker's about heel in Revenge of the Sith. OK he's worried about losing Padme, but would that really have moved him to kill so many of his former friends, children and even try to kill his best friend and childhood mentor? Could someone who had been so brave and worked for so many years to protect the weak and uphold Jedi principles just dump it all overnight??? I'm sure there are many reasons that could be argued - the Emperor, Anakin's childhood, his growing resentment and isolation etc etc - but I felt these were way under-developed/portrayed in the story and so it fell flat on its face in my view. I rejected it at an emotional level. Sure people turn bad, but it takes years and has deep rooted associations within them. Its not a simple decision.

    So yes it could be done and could be very poignant - but tread carefully :)
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2015
    ascanius, Gryphos and Penpilot like this.
  16. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

    I saw one man post that the only people he'd seen disagree with Joel's choice were people who didn't have children. I also saw one woman post about how she spent the whole game wanting Ellie to escape from the "possessive" Joel, and she hated the ending because it put the player in Joel's shoes as he made a choice that should have been Ellie's. I suspect the genders there are relevant.
  17. spectre

    spectre Sage

    Anathema is present in a lot of modern writing. I wouldn't say it's absent in more historical literature, even recent historical, it's just present in a different way. The fact is that like your character, the perception of people changes over time as we're exposed to different kinds of substance. I myself have been put off by it, some graphic situations have little or no place in literature except under constrained circumstances where it may be about non-fiction. But what is the line anyway? I've seen a lot of things on TV that I haven't seen in the choices of literature I read. Then I wouldn't want to either.

    The sensation you attach to the circumstance is what is going to decide if readers don't want to hear it. You place it etched in stone "this is [anathema]" with little more than a regression then a retrogression and either readers will be wholly surpsrised to learn the truth and be flabbergasted (sort of the way that everyone speculated on the end of Tony in the Sopranos despite the fact we all knew the lifestyle) or their gonna be like, what was the point of including that material?

    It's like so many have said that I've read here on the forums, show don't say. So when you create a body narrative behind your characters monstrosity think of the contraindications. Edward Scissorhands' mallody (?) was a good part of his creation. While he's an inbetween character that shows more of duality than monstrosity, that is the point. Human beings have a certain response to duality as a dichotomy and that's present in all of our philosophy and literature, it's the basis of our scientific endeavors as well.

    Character creation is problem solving. Good luck.
  18. ascanius

    ascanius Inkling

    Grrr... I had a long post explaining things but I got logged out. There really needs to be some way that what we write isn't lost if we have to log back in. I'll rewrite everything tomorrow, but I think this is something that needs to be fixed.
  19. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

    Sometimes text gets autosaved if you wait long enough, and if that happens you can restore it. There should be a little white button that says so when you go to type in a post.
  20. ascanius

    ascanius Inkling

    Where? Any way to change it to a big red button. I'll Keep this in mind for the future though.

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