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Hero morality issues…

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Heliotrope, Oct 1, 2015.

  1. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    I love the genre of fantasy/SF, but I have issues with traditional Hero morality issues…

    Like, for example,

    Bad guy is being bad and killing lots of people

    so

    Good guy comes in and kills lots of bad guy's people

    WTF?

    I get that this is war, and there needs to be justice, but is anyone else trying to find ways of solving issues or writing a good story without it being about war between good guys and bad guys essentially doing the same things to each other?

    I just feel like a hero can be a hero in a lot of ways besides just being 'the chosen one' or having a bigger sword. Self sacrifice, perhaps. Using art to create revolution?

    My 'hero' is more of a literary revolutionary who writes illegal underground propaganda in order to create revolution. Obviously there is an element of danger in this position, and obviously he can be executed… I'm just wondering if there is other examples of this sort of thing in Lit?

    thoughts? Does anyone have examples of this in actual fantasy/sci-fi literature?
     
    Last edited: Oct 1, 2015
  2. Zadocfish

    Zadocfish Troubadour

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    A literary revolutionary is no different. Revolutions against governments aren't bloodless; if you encourage revolution, you encourage the same violence you are speaking against. A hero is no different just because he doesn't personally get his hands dirty, if anything that makes it worse...

    As for examples, a lot of children's fantasy stories can get by without violence. Really, it's just the fact that many fantasy stories focus their conflict on wars and dark lords. Or, in your case, revolution. Either way, that kind of fantasy requires some form of violence to be the least bit realistic.
     
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  3. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    There are obviously lots of intriguing ways to solve problems without direct war or violence, and the world can be changed without spilling blood if done right. I would read a great book written about that.

    But readers respond when the stakes are high and what is higher stakes than death?

    Managing reader expectations can be tricky, but no reason not to have a shot at it.
     
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  4. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    There doesn't need to be violence, war, and battles in order to have conflict in a story. There doesn't need to be good vs evil all of the time. One of the most valuable things I've learned this past year has been that the antagonist is basically a photo negative version of the protagonist. They want the same story goal except the antagonist goes about the extreme way of achieving this desire. He shows the readers what the protagonist could be like had she chosen a different path in life. If you're talking about a hero's moral flaw, that's the thing that will create tension in your story, a deep character arc, and keep readers turning pages.

    I rarely have battle scenes in my stories. I'm awful at writing them plus I find them very boring. Conflict and tension are present in my stories through the butting of heads between protagonist and antagonist. My WIP has a protagonist pinned up against her adopted brother, the antagonist. They start off being best friends at the beginning of the book and somewhere along the way, he turns on her for gold. He puts his needs above hers...and that's the exact thing she does to other people. Her moral flaw, which is also HIS moral flaw, except he's further along that path. What ultimately makes her the hero of the story is that she surpasses that moral flaw which has been holding her back. She changes as a person. However, she gives up on her external goal (story goal), which the antagonist also shares, in order to choose the moral high ground.

    So no, you don't need battle, good vs evil, black and white in order to have conflict in your stories. Conflict=a protagonist and antagonist that want the same thing but they go about different ways of getting it, and the protagonist is able to correct the moral flaw which holds her back at the beginning of the book to live in a better way.

    Books I strongly recommend: "The Anatomy of Story" by John Truby, "Take Off Your Pants" by Libbie Hawker, "Rock Your Plot" by Cathy Yardley which all explain this story element.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 1, 2015
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  5. valiant12

    valiant12 Sage

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    So your 'hero'' is manipulating public opinion to further his goals.


    Yes, he can be a diplomat who tries to avoid a big war, a doctor trying to cure a plague, a firefighter saving people from a burning starship, a detective trying to find a dangerous murderer, a warrior protecting a village against the local bandits (yes this is violent but its also a more noble pursuit than starting a revolution), a person seeking redemption, etc.
     
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  6. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    Starting a revolution can be a moral pursuit. All that matters is that the protagonist has a goal which he plans to pursue all the way to the end, and there is someone trying to stop him from achieving that goal.
     
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  7. I am curious about equating violence by the bad guy as the exact same as violence by the good guy. Perhaps I am up in the night on this but violence isn't necessarily bad. I think that depends on the state of mind, but that's off topic. However, I do think that your idea can work. There are many heroes in our own history (which I am sure you're aware of) that didn't commit violence who's stories are compelling and effectuated great change.
     
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  8. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    You guys are right about my character, and that is mostly why I posed the question. So he is creating revolution, which will end in blood… here I am happily plotting away and then I'm like… Oh, shit… how is he any different than the bad guy then?

    And then I realize I suck, and I want to start all over again because of hero morality issues. That's why I was hoping for some other examples.

    Valiant gave some good suggestions, thank you :)

    I agree that sometimes violence needs to happen, and sometimes it doesn't. Brian, you are right… I was basing my character on a Thomas Paine or William Blake type character (both who wrote important texts during the French Revolution, and who helped the peasants put into words what they were feeling in their hearts. Basically helped to unite them… however, we all know how that ended up… in a lot of blood…) but then are Thomas Paine and William Blake evil? I'm not so sure… Are they any different than the revolutionaries in the streets fighting with bare fists and kitchen knives? Again, not so sure…

    I have heard wonderful stories about people in Germany and Poland during WW2 doing underground radio channels etc to spread anti Nazi propaganda. Kids even, who were then captured and executed. I wanted to write about something heroic like that…

    But then my mind always wonders to the fact that even the Nazi's had wives and children and grandchildren… and then I get all emotional and have trouble writing anything at all, because I don't like either side of my story then…

    But, I think maybe I just have issues with writing about war in general. Maybe I just understand it too much that I know how many tiny little important details and layers there really are in war, and it's not so cut and dry as one might think from reading books about orcs, and so I'm feeling nervous about portraying it in a realistic light. Realism is very important to me, and I don't like to write anything shallow.

    Maybe I need to re-think my story to be about a doctor trying to heal a plague… or something like that. Something I'm more comfortable writing about….

    Or maybe I should just suck it up and get over the fact that my character will essentially be a mass murderer with a pen.

    hmmmmmmmmmm

    So, can anyone suggest a fantasy novel that is NOT about war? More about doctors finding cures to plagues, and firefighters putting out fires?
     
    Last edited: Oct 1, 2015
  9. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    I guess this is why fantasy authors use really bad guys, even non-human entities, like orcs and white walkers etc, so you don't feel so bad about slaughtering them.

    What do you guys do? Do you make super bad characters to justify having a big battle?
     
    Last edited: Oct 1, 2015
  10. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    lol, why can I play Assassins Creed and not feel guilty? But I can't write about a revolutionary who might end up killing some people. I need to suck it up.

    Sorry for the thinking aloud.
     
  11. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    I write humans, and humans on either side of a conflict don't need to be evil to justify a big battle or bashing each other's heads in. They just need to be human and have something they think is worth fighting over.

    As for books without the war, there are probably lots, but right now only one comes to mind for me. It's an older book called Nobody's Son by Sean Stewart.

    Here are some links to a goodreads blurb, a review, and an Amazon link.

    Nobody's Son by Sean Stewart — Reviews, Discussion, Bookclubs, Lists
    Growing Up: Sean Stewart’s Nobody’s Son | Tor.com
    Nobody's Son: Sean Stewart: 9780441001286: Books - Amazon.ca


    Edit: Oh, just took a look at my bookshelf and if your looking stories with little to no swordplay, check out some of Neil Gaiman's books. Anansi Boys is one of my favorites.
     
    Last edited: Oct 1, 2015
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  12. MineOwnKing

    MineOwnKing Maester

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    Many years ago the lovely lady I ended up marrying introduced me to the game Age of Empires.

    From the little bit of time I spent playing that game, and from a couple of other similar games online, I noticed a pattern, the women playing the games really enjoyed building the forts, villages, etc and the boys enjoyed annihilating their opponents.

    If you want to sell a lot of books, you have to understand your fan base, give them what they expect to get.

    Boys are pretty simple to please. They often want male characters that they can identify with and female characters that are not boring.

    Adventure, intrigue, action and reward.

    If you are writing for a predominantly female fan base, it helps to be a woman.

    I would guess for female, fantasy fans, possibly some more focus on world building, some kind of emotional connection to the hero, some kind of trophy that is close but somehow always out of reach, a lot of class and a little bit of humor.

    Write for your readers first, write for yourself second.
     
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  13. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    He's different from the bad guy because:

    1. At some point during the story, preferably in the first half, he realizes that he has a strong moral flaw that's been holding him back from happiness/achieving his goals. This comes through a self-revelation prompted by an incident or ally character he has respect for, which shakes him and says, "your problem is X", placing it right in his face. Hero then decides to change and readjusts his goals in order to do that. Villain never goes through this change. His moral state degrades over time.

    2. The protagonist will go about achieving his goals in a different way than the villain. They may both do shady things in order to achieve that goal, but Hero does it less severely.

    3. Hero ends up deserving this title because his actions shift to reflect a change in morality.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 11, 2017
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  14. X Equestris

    X Equestris Maester

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    Not really. Some of my antagonists/villains only have an animalistic intelligence, and do what they do out of hunger. They have to be killed because they're a threat to humans. Others are supernatural beings that feed off of negative emotions. I suppose those are the closest to being "super bad", though again their evilness is in large part related to being dangerous to people. Some of my human villains are motivated by greed, whether for money or power or whatever. Those vary up and down the scale of evil based on their methods. And some of my human villains have good motivations and goals, but are willing to sacrifice anything in pursuit of those goals.
     
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  15. Scribe Lord

    Scribe Lord Minstrel

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    I don't understand why you see this as a bad thing. If anything, it could be a golden opportunity for more realism, conflict and development (aka probably a better story). Show how your character justifies what he does. He doesn't even have to align perfectly with your definition of morality from the start. (Or ever for that matter) Maybe he pushes for revolution, then after witnessing the horrors that ensue, begins to have doubts. Or maybe he sees them as necessary for the greater good. Or maybe he thinks the horrors were avoidable and tries to get the revolution back on track. Have him constantly reevaluating his stance. Have him struggle to discern the 'right' path and take it. Life decisions aren't always easy. Personally, I also think it makes a better story when you can understand and even empathize with both sides of a conflict. Maybe that's just me though.

    Regardless, I see so much potential for story, conflict and character development here. I'd say stick with it.
     
  16. DeathtoTrite

    DeathtoTrite Troubadour

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    A few thoughts-

    1) You seem to have an issue with your main character doing morally questionable actions, whether it be killing people or agitating for revolution. Don't worry about this. Nothing is more boring than a hero without some... human flaw? The self-sacrifice to save the day is cliche as hell, especially if the "sacrificial death" ends up being nothing but a pit stop in the afterlife. Make your characters interesting and likable. Hannibal Lecter was a horrible person, but damn if you can't help but like they guy.

    2) Antagonists can be your EVIL overlord of doom, but they don't need to be. Hell, they can be fairly good people. All an antagonist is is whoever has goals opposed to the protagonist. You talked about Nazis having families. All the millions in Germany in WWII weren't soulless abominations (though there certainly were several). The grey space is where it gets interesting.
     
  17. valiant12

    valiant12 Sage

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    What I remember from that game is using cannons against the civilians.:D:D:D

    Women also like female characters that they can identify with and men like humor and winning something that is impossible to reach. In fact men generally like winning and bragging rights.
     
  18. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    You could always create a hero whose efforts involve some sort of unmasking. Since you mentioned revolution, I'm assuming there is some kind of status quo that needs to be broken, a regime whose power needs to be overthrown. I don't know the characteristics of that regime, but if it involves multiple people and multiple layers, your hero could be the sort that either exposes corruption or/and weakens the regime by causing internal dissent among the ruling forces. So, for instance, a type of spy-slash-propagandist. Perhaps she finds an ally among the ruling class, and together they work to turn other members of that ruling class against each other. If the regime is a theocratic regime with multiple layers and there is some dissention between sects within the ranks of the rulers, the hero could expose the "truth" behind the religious foundations of the regime, which leads to intra-class conflict while at the same time destroying the populace's acquiescence to the ruling class's power. And so forth.
     
  19. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    Thanks everyone!

    So I'm hearing 'suck it up'… That's good. I like that.

    Yes, I did have him realizing what the end result would be of his efforts, and even seeing the negatives (like the killing of innocents, especially the interrogation process of the higher ups trying to find out who the writer is…) and him questioning his ideals and the cost… I guess I will just keep going, in the name of good conflict and realism.

    "nothing is either good nor bad but thinking makes it so" - Hamlet

    I guess I just think too much.
     
  20. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    lol. This is so true. I love Skyrim and Oblivion, but I mostly just play through the Thieves Guild because I don't have to kill anyone. I also love to challenge myself to raid caves and temples totally on sneak mode and try to get through with no casualties….

    So lame.
     
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