The Right Time for Morality


A couple of weeks ago the raptor sent me this link to a fantasy workshop. As preparation for the workshop, the applicants are asked to ‘write a scene which shows how one of your characters is morally conflicted.’

Now, I love morality questions in fantasy. They’re a great tool for character development, characterisation and culture building in any genre. In fantasy, where so often the societal norm is pretty accepting of murder, theft, pillage, etc, I particularly enjoy drawing attention to the (by real life standards) somewhat sociopathic morality of many ‘heroes’.

What made me stop and think on this occasion, however, was more a question of pacing. All the scenes that sprang immediately to my mind for the workshop prep revolved around the character doing the morally questionable act without thinking about it, and then agonising over it later. Which fits the brief, but isn’t actually what the brief is asking for.

Being morally torn whilst committing the act unquestionably adds tension to the scene. The protagonist is tense, therefore the reader is as well. But it also has the potential to slow the scene down as you explore the reasons behind that tension, the inner conflict, and the decision making process. This isn’t necessarily an issue – it depends very much on the action in question. If you’re in the middle of a high-action scene, however, disrupting the pacing for an internal moral struggle isn’t necessarily the right option.

I guess that leaves you with two options, as a writer. Either you subtly foreshadow the moral conflict so that, when it’s crunch time, the reader already understands without having to explore it further. Or you have the character go right ahead, and deal with the moral fall-out later.


Doing the right thing for the right reasons, against the law

2 responses »

  1. I think you can also do a more subtle version of the ‘conflicted while in action’ version. It’s undoubtedly easier to do with foreshadowing, but if the character hesitates at the right moments then you can show moral conflict without going deeply into what’s causing it. At that point, it might also help with pacing, by creating setbacks within the action.

    I say all this in theory – while I’ve done stuff along these lines before, it hasn’t been with the conscious aim of showing a moral dilemma while maintaining pace. Perhaps an experiment for one of my Friday stories.

  2. Pingback: Turning Pages - a fantasy flash story - Andrew Knighton Writes

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