Monday, September 27, 2021

Let's Talk About Your Character's Ethics

This is actually a huge problem, I believe, for many authors out there. In an effort to create drama or conflict  in their stories, or simply a way to enhance the plots, they take their characters into an area that is likely hurting their stories. Their protagonists end up being unethical. Now, let me stress here, I am not talking serial killer level here. I am talking about things that your characters would likely complain about. These are also issues that many in the general public (specifically your readers) may not agree with.

I want to start with a big one for me. It is amazing that I even have this listed as a topic I will not acquire, and yet, so many authors continue to submit. 

A common theme in women's fiction, especially contemporary women's fiction is a wife having to deal with an unhealthy marriage. The couple have been married for a while, maybe kids, but they have pulled apart. She even suspects he is cheating on her (we almost always find out that he was). In an effort to make sense of all of this, she takes a trip (often a cruise to a tropical island) with her best friend. Along the trip, she meets this guy who she really falls for. He ignites passions in her she has not felt in a long time. She sees life in a new way. She sees herself in a new way. Wow! We're talking huge transformation and growth for her! 

But here is the problem...

She is doing EXACTLY what she hated her husband for. She threw him under the bus, the author made him look slimy, and yet, here she is, doing the same thing. Sorry, you can't just justify it and argue she has made great personal growth. 

Here are others in a bulleted list I often see that really cross that line:

  • Graduate student has a relationship with her university professor
  • Cops and detectives having a relationship with either the person they are investigating or a client
  • Characters justifying "breaking into" the bosses office to determine if s/he is doing something criminal.
Now, I get it, these are the big ones, but you may have your characters doing things, or acting certain ways that come across as unethical, or simply unlikeable. If you want to sell that book, you have to make sure we like your character from the beginning and they don't end up doing the things they hated in Chapter 1.

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