Character Development: Morals & Ideology

Photo credit: Walt Stoneburner on Flickr
Every one of us lives by a different standard of morality with a unique worldview etched into us over the course of our lives, beginning with simple lessons in childhood and culminating with deep introspection of controversy sitting in the moral gray.

Just as you and I have different ways of viewing and interpreting the world, our characters should each be unique in their worldview and moral code. And it shouldn’t always reflect your own, either.

Each of our characters have (or should have) a history that shaped them into who they are. This very same history will also help to mold the way that they view the world, from their outlook on life (pessimist? optimist? realist?) to the rigidity (or not) of their sense of right and wrong.

Knowing this aspect of your characters is essential to both character development and plot. Throughout the course of your novel, your characters will be pushed to their limits and challenged in various ways—and knowing the basis of how they view the world is the foundation to the decisions that they make.

Here’s an example: in the Twilight series (Stephanie Meyer), the Cullens drink animal blood because they believe it’s immoral to hunt humans. Most other vampires, however, have accepted their human diet as part of their nature, and see nothing wrong with it. This makes the Cullens act very differently around Bella than other human-hunting vampires. Different worldviews. Different moral codes. Different decisions.

Another example: in Shatter Me (Tahereh Mafi), Warner tries to manipulate Juliette into using her ability to torture people fighting against The Reestablishment. To Warner, it is a necessary part of living in a world torn apart by war, but Juliette refuses because she can’t bring herself to intentionally harm another human being. Different worldviews. Different moral codes. Different decisions.

There are many other examples out there, but they all lead back to the same conclusion: our worldview and moral code shapes our decisions, and they should affect our characters the same way.

Make a point not to neglect this aspect of character development—it is an essential part to truly understanding your characters and allowing them to act in a way shaped by their beliefs and understanding of the world.

How do you incorporate your characters morals and ideologies into your work?


Al Diaz said...

I have a question. How long do you spend in character development?

Robin Red said...

My current WIP has magic in it, so I presented the conflict of how to use it. My protagonist's father, who loves her (and still treats her like a little girl sometimes), warns her from it, while her grandfather (retired war veteran, scholar, and philosopher) challenges her to use it. The magic itself isn't too bad, but after one of the characters accidentally erases another character's memories and sends him into a coma, it raises a moral question.

Ava Jae said...

That's a great example, Robin. Thanks for sharing!

Margaret Alexander said...

That's an important way to look at it, Ava. Just because something is deemed wrong by one person and what has shaped them doesn't mean that what another does is evil just because they don't understand them. They could also have good intentions, but since they haven't been on their side of the road, they see it differently. Different pasts, especially troubled pasts, are a great source of conflict. Great post!

Ava Jae said...

Thank you, Margaret! I agree completely--particularly about how the pasts can be a great source of conflict. Our characters past are a huge part of who they are, which is why it's so important to develop them!

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