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Character Development – Legality vs. Morality

This is sort of a post on law, but I want you to read it in terms of how you can apply these kinds of quandaries to your characters.

Legal does not equal moral.

Maybe we try for that, but it doesn’t always work. And most laws are about supporting a bloated regulatory state, so they aren’t even laws trying to protect people. And many do more harm than good.

But I digress.

Lawyers have a very hard time with the law vs. morality mindset. You tell us a situation and we will most likely start to debate law first.

I did it a few weeks ago. I was told by another writer that an author “stole” an idea from another author who was talking about it.

I immediately jumped into why it wasn’t copyright infringement, because you can’t copyright an idea only the expression of it, and the guy was like, not the point.

He said we were talking about if this writer is a douchebag, not if he can rightfully be sued.

And I realized what I’d been doing and went, Ohhhhhhh.

So why do we do that?

Because moral quandaries are hard!

Lawyers have a sheid we love to use, which is the law. We can’t argue morality any better than anyone else, but we can always fall back on the law and use it to hide behind when something morally difficult comes up.

Morality, right vs. wrong, and the fallout from making the wrong choice are difficult.

Because if there’s no touchstone, like laws, then how do we know what’s right or wrong?

How do your characters know?

What do they use to tell them right from wrong? I have characters who use religion, ones who use the basic libertarian idea of if it doesn’t hurt anyone else then it’s probably fine, and others who can’t deal with grey areas so they fall back on the law. And I also have my favorite lion shifting near sociopath who follows the rule of that which is best for her tribe is what’s right. 🙂

Your characters may use something completely different, but give it a thought. How do they make moral decisions? Do they take the harm of others into account? How do they handle making the wrong choice? How do they deal with it when they thought it was right at the time and later on figured out it was wrong?

Some examples on that last one are apologizing, trying to make it right, trying to do better in the future, or not owning up to it at all and arguing it wasn’t wrong (like arguing it wasn’t illegal and therefore not wrong), because they don’t know how to deal with the guilt or don’t want to face the backlash of getting busted.

Maybe your character starts out not being able to deal with it and hides behind their justification, but then learns how to throughout the book or series.

Ok, there’s the general overview. Now, go apply it to your characters 🙂

Happy Writing!

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