A lot of fiction is easily defineable between good and evil. The good guys are good, and the bad guys bad. It’s clear for the most part, how things will play out in the end. And, there’s nothing wrong with this. Lots of great stories fall into this clear dichotomy. For me, however, I like it when things aren’t so clear. Now, I don’t mean that you don’t know who the good guys and bad guys are, for the most part at least, but that if you put them on a sliding scale between sweet and sociopath, they are not so far apart some of the time. I like it when characters have to do bad things to try and achieve good ends, or they have morally ambiguous pasts that are always threatening to catch up to them. There’s some great conflict to be had in these murky waters.
It can be a fine line, though. You are always a step away from alienating your reader and losing sympathy for your hero/heroine. As a reader, I like it when I have to question my sympathies toward the main characters, wondering if I will continue to like them, but then having them achieve some kind of redemption in the end. This can be difficult in a series when the character’s growth from bad to good takes place over the course of more than one book. The key for me as both a writer and reader, is to make sure there is some kernel of truth and likeability about the character that makes me want to cheer for them no matter what questionable actions may take place. I want to be thinking, “Come on, you can do it!” throughout the course of the story, while all the time wincing at what happens with the character.
Reading and writing in the world of gray is both challenging and fun. I like when I am forced to consider just what exactly is good and bad, and where that line is that things shouldn’t cross. Will the character step over the line? Is that really where the line should be? In the end, it all has to be believeable within the context of the story. If the actions and decisions made by the characters don’t break me out of the story, it’s all good in the end.
What do you think? How are you with characters who constantly traverse that fine line between right/wrong, bad and good?