Moral Planes: Separating Writers from Characters

We are please to welcome our newest contributor, David Powers King!

Character creation is a very enjoyable part of the writing process, not to mention one of the trickier aspects when it comes to honing their voice. Sometimes we are caught up in the trap of having everyone sound the same in spite of outlining a variety of differing character traits. This was the topic of discussion I was invited to speak on in a panel recently. Many great answers and perspectives were shared. Then I received an email from one of the conference attendees thanking me for being in the panel and for something I had said that seemed to resonate with her—this I will share with you now.

Don’t be afraid to allow your characters to have a different moral plane than your own.

What do I mean by that? The short answer is an invitation for writers to explore all realms of thought and behavior that is capable in the human perspective. Authors have the immensely fun job of exploring the greatest and worst aspects of humanity, all without having to actually go there. This is true for the main character in one of my recent short stories published in Fall Dark: An Anthology. As an everyday person, I’m not generally inclined to swear, drink alcohol, or think ill of others. But the main character does. Perhaps, for this reason, he’s likely one of the more interesting characters I’ve ever written. His strength comes from his flaws, not by carrying common traits associated with everyday protagonists. Doing so can lead to stale situations with your characters, or have too little conflict in your story.

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It’s not enough to reserve what is perceived as immoral behavior for those characters we are meant to dislike—those villains and knaves, bullies and jerks. Yes, supporting or main characters can have “moral issues” too. Like those things you’d never think of doing. There’s been a lot of great work published by authors who have actually experienced or worked with individuals who have experienced the dark and hard themes presented in their works. Does one need to go there in pursuit of a great story? Seeking trouble may not be recommended, but we live in an incredible age where personal accounts of all kinds of moral dilemmas—perpetrator and victim alike—are online for those with a reliable search engine.

There’s no checklist or standard for making the ideal character (or if there was one, it would be subjective at best), but it is a valuable skill to separate the writer from the character. Allow them to think and desire beyond what you may consider safe. Let go of the idea that your main character is an extension of yourself. She would fair better going beyond yourself.


DavidPowersKing.jpgDavid Powers King was born in beautiful downtown Burbank, California where his love for film inspired him to be a writer. An avid fan of science fiction and fantasy, David also has a soft spot for zombies and the paranormal. David’s works include Woven, The Undead Road, and Full Dark: An Anthology. He now lives in the mountain West with his wife and four children.