One of the joys of writing a character whose moral compass goes askew is that you never know exactly what is going to happen. For instance, blackmailing a woman into a marriage would be completely wrong in my book, but to my sordid character Faxon Mylonas it is business as usual. (For those familiar with the Sedition universe, you might recognize that name from the first book as the pipe-smoking shady character who gave Prince Brenson a hand when it was needed.)
Writing Faxon has been a challenge and a blessing. I’m not one to say that my own moral compass has always pointed true North, but there are certain boundaries that I’ve stayed away from. When exploring Faxon’s character, his thought process opens up a whole slew of possibilities that I would never consider. A prime example is in the scene I just wrote for him this week, where he “stretched the truth” in order to get an extra few vials of blood from someone. (Don’t ask, it’s a complicated mess of Blood Magic.)
But he got me to thinking about all those characters who I love whose moral compasses go a little wonky from time to time. They aren’t necessarily villains, because they are mostly-kinda-sorta on the right side of the story line to be considered a good guy.
The first one that comes to mind is Dexter from … yeah … that creepy serial killer TV show called Dexter. If there ever was a character who made my sense of morality sit back and cry, it is Dexter. (For those unaware, Dexter is a serial killer who hunts serial killers.) By the end of each episode I was in a bizarre state of moral shock, condemning myself for rooting for this guy.
The second shady character I can think of is Jack Sparrow. I mean, we all know he will eventually lean on the right side of things, but there are moments where you just don’t know. I also have to note with good old Jack that his moment of redemption at the end of each of the movies is just plain wonderful. (Thank you, Mr. Depp, for always keeping me guessing as to which way this character was going to fly at any given moment.)
The third character on my list is John Cleaver from Dan Wells’ I Am Not A Serial Killer.
And after reading my list again, I’ve decided that there are too many titles in my life with “serial killer” in them. I’m going to go read The Chronicles of Narnia or something.
2 thoughts on “Moral Compasses”
I’ve been also very intrigued by characters whose values aren’t necessarily the most solid or commendable. I’d go as far as saying all of my protagonists share that trait. They are all people who in spite of appearing morally ambiguous or downright evil because of their actions, they have either a heart of gold or a determination that, studied on its own, becomes admirable.
I think part of our fascination with this kind of character is that they break all kinds of rules and norms because, in a way, they know they need to in order to succeed. Or better yet, they know they are inherently wrong to begin with.
What I really love is when a fritzy character does something noble and then sits back and wonders why they did it. It’s like they surprised themselves and now they’re trying to analyze it.