I have always enjoyed reading about morally ambiguous characters in fiction. Such characters, to me, are much more interesting than straight down the line good or evil characters.
The fact is, we live in a world of gray, not black and white. Almost everyone can go one way or the other at any time, and often do.
Even the most morally upstanding person has done things that they are most likely not proud off. I know I have—not that I’m any kind of saint in the first place, but I know right from wrong. Even still, enough times in my life, the line (if it even exists) between right and wrong got blurred or wiped out altogether. Sure, I’ve never murdered anyone, nor horribly abused them (unless you include being married to someone…does that count?), but I have done questionable things in the past, mostly when I was younger and didn’t know any better. These days, being older and wiser, I tend to make better decisions.
The point I am trying to make here is that if you are a human being, you are most likely a pretty complicated person by your very nature. You probably have a lot of gray inside you, maybe some white, even a little black. None of us are perfectly morally balanced. Even Ghandi was a wife beater. Or what about the Old Testament God? Even He was a mean son of a bitch at times (Job is beside me now, nodding fervently…)
It’s this viewpoint that informs my fiction writing. When I create characters, they almost always emerge as being morally ambiguous most of the time. They don’t mind getting their hands dirty, or crossing lines they shouldn’t.
In my mind, this is what helps to create believable characters. Their flaws make them much more interesting than does there strengths.
In many ways, you would expect most characters in fiction (main characters anyway) to behave according to their strengths. You expect them to do good and save the day, especially in urban fantasy fiction, where most of the stories are about good triumphing over evil.
The trouble is, if all characters behave impeccably and defeat all of their foes, the story would end up boring. Besides which, characters which are all good or all evil are hard to relate to, simply because no one like that exists in the real world.
The characters which are easy to relate to are the ones that are fundamentally flawed. The ones who make mistakes and fuck things up all the time, but occasionally (when it counts) can pull themselves together enough to do the right thing at the right time.
Something else most of us can relate to, because we have all done it at some point. We have all made decisions that turned out be really good ones, or we have behaved in a way that changed things for the better, usually by putting other people first instead of ourselves.
When I write stories, I try to show my characters doing exactly what we just talked about—moving forward one fuck up at a time until they do something right that changes things, and they carry on fucking up again until they change something else and so on. That’s the basis of most stories. It’s the fuck ups that make them interesting.
I don’t want my characters to do the right thing all the time. I want them to fuck up. I want them to be selfish sometimes, to do things that aren’t necessarily the right things, and to do so because they can’t help it. In short, I want them to behave like real people.
Even the demons in my books are not all bad, not all evil. Lucas for instance, who appears in both my series, is possibly the most morally gray character I have written. Lucas will help others, he will do good some of the time, but he will also do bad things that will likely hurt others. If he was completely bad and all he did was evil shit all day long, Lucas would be much less interesting. He would be flat, boring and tedious to read about.
Adding gray to the core of a character gives them depth. It adds mystery and unpredictability, two traits I appreciate as a reader, and try to include as a writer.
Of course, every good character has to have a fatal flaw of some sort, but I think it’s better if characters are flawed more generally instead of just in one specific way. It makes them more believable and more relatable.
TV has embraced this sense of moral ambiguity, which is why we are seeing some of the most interesting characters ever created for television. Two that spring to mind are Walter White from Breaking Bad and Raymond Reddington from The Blacklist. These are two awesome examples of just how compelling such characters can be, and in terms of entertainment value, they really deliver.
It is my goal to try and create characters like that, within the worlds that I create in my books. Characters who compel the reader, who aren’t good or bad, but real. Believable.
So expect no saints or sinners in my books. Just real people (and monsters), as much as I can make them so.