Don’t Write in Black and White

A discussion about embracing the grey within your characters.

Image Credit: 
© Chris Martin / Used With Permission

The majority of stories will have a protagonist and an antagonist. Normally these will be opposed to each other in numerous ways, but the most common way that you will see is an opposition of morals; a good guy and a bad guy. Should these characters be defined as ‘the good guy’ and ‘the bad guy’? No. Fiction is littered with people that are either good or bad with little to no crossover. This is boring. When I read a book I want to be on the edge of my seat wondering what a particular character is going to do next. If the character is built properly, I can guess based on their personality and past actions, but I know the good guy won’t sacrifice the building full of burning kittens to chase down the nefarious bad guy. That would be naughty. That’s not fun as a reader.

Reality is rarely black and white, either. History is full of real people who were good, but at times their actions were questionable, if not downright evil. This is what humanity really looks like. It isn’t black and white; it’s grey. To make your characters believable, relatable and likeable you need to include a bit greyness in them. This will vary depending on the story you’re telling but, for instance, a book I’m working on has the archangel Gabriel coming to Earth to eradicate the human race. This is, obviously, evil. However, his intentions were pure. He thought that humanity was destroying the planet and themselves, he believed that he was, essentially, cutting off the tumorous humanity. Evil, definitely, but there was a touch of goodness in him that made him unpredictable. You can do the same with your ‘good guys’ too.

Essentially, what it all boils down to is flaws. While black and white vs grey initially makes you think of good and evil in this context. It doesn’t have to. It is merely a tool to represent two ends of a spectrum and a middle ground. You need to apply this idea to all of your characters and look at where they sit on the line. They need to have flaws because, ultimately, people are flawed.

David Chitty was born and raised in Thanet in the 90s. He devotes most of his energies to writing fantasy fiction novels.

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