My favorite types of characters are the ones who stir the pot and make things interesting. Take for example, Blair Waldorf from GOSSIP GIRL: she always had a new scheme up her sleeve that’s either going to benefit herself, her friends, or take someone down. (Eat dust Little J.)
I think a lot of us find characters like Blair fascinating—the characters who are a bit morally grey and ambiguous. The characters who make decisions we love (and hate) all at once.
Another favorite character of mine who definitely fits into a grey area is Sandra from SUPERSTORE. She cares so much for her boyfriend Jerry and took care of him all throughout his coma, but also wants to kill one of her coworkers. (The feeling is mutual.)
ACE OF SHADES by Amanda Foody (out today!) is certainly rife with morally grey characters. All of the characters are fighting each other for their own self interests in the City of Sin. (Enne’s character arc is one of my favorites.)
I know as writers we’re always looking for good advice; we want that Twitter thread that’s going to open the clouds up and shower us with writing wisdom that will solve all of our problems. One of the problems I know I’ve dealt with before (and will continue to) is character arc. And when it comes to a morally grey character, how can we as writers present a satisfying arc?
Let’s take another favorite character of mine: Murphy from THE 100. Originally when I started the show, I hated Murphy. I sided with the, arguably, more main characters like Clarke. Murphy had done some pretty messed up stuff! He was a bad person. Then I rewatched season one, and I fell in love with his character arc.
For a show that has a lot of difficult decisions and characters that make poor ones (the writers room too, sorry not sorry), it was shocking for me to have a complete turnaround for a character who was hated by so many other characters. Murphy thrives on surviving and he does what he has to do for himself, especially after the other characters abandon him because of his decisions.
But what made me like his character during that rewatch and in the subsequent seasons? The following is my list of why I like morally grey characters and things we as writers can think about as we write them!
- They make things difficult. I get frustrated when things go too easily for characters, so I love when a character like Blair creates a little chaos.
- No status quo. Because these characters are constantly making new, sometimes seemingly random decisions, there is a level of uncertainty that keeps all of us on our toes. (I LOVE when I can’t guess what’s going to happen.)
- The character arc contains multiple lines. A character like Murphy is ultimately, attempting (in his own way) to be a good person. He has good moments, bad ones, and in-between. He might take five steps forward and two back, but he’s still made progress and isn’t the same as when we first met him.
In my own writing, my most morally grey characters are side characters. They have certainly had their part in messing up my three main character’s journeys. Their own desires clash with the main characters’ and I think that’s truly where the magic happens.
All of this post is to suggest this: analyze what you enjoy about characters because it will help you write characters better. Reading threads on social media can most definitely be helpful, but I think when we can articulate in our own words what we like about other books, we can better implement those concepts into our own writing.
Who are some of your favorite grey characters?
And don’t miss our giveaway for ACE OF SHADES and DAUGHTER OF THE BURNING CITY by Amanda Foody! Details below. Good luck!