Monday, May 7, 2012
Great Characters, Part 4 of 6. Ethics and Methodology.
Ethics is defined as “accepted standards of conduct”.
Age-old discussions of the definitions of nebulous, subjective ideas such as Good, Evil, Right and Wrong have left us with no universal, objective parameters for human behavior. That’s great for us, because we get to define these things ourselves for each character we make.
Let’s practice with three things that your character will either never do or will always do. For example, “I will never torture prisoners. I will always answer a cry for help. I will never curse.”
That seems simple enough, and it clearly defines our character’s outlook on a few common issues.
But let’s dig deeper. Why will I never torture a prisoner? What if that prisoner is the villain who kidnapped my daughter? What if he’s the only person who knows where he has imprisoned my daughter? What then? If I won’t even torture this guy, then I should know why not. What is it that I feel so strongly about that it is easier to take the chance of losing my beloved daughter than to compromise this principle?
Why do I always answer a cry for help? Why do I never curse?
Never and always are powerful ideas. They represent strong convictions. Those convictions come from somewhere, and if they are that strong, then we need to know where they came from.
If your character doesn’t have such extreme standards, then we can use easier words, such as “I always try to have the last word in any discussion”. “I try not to take advantage of the gullibility of others”.
These kinds of standards are much easier to work with, and they are also more realistic. Real people very seldom have a standard that they absolutely will not compromise, ever. It happens, but it is hard work, and it often becomes a defining characteristic of that person.
So, we have a few things that our character tries to do and some that they try not to do. All you have to do is come up with a reason why they feel that way, and run with it.
For example, “I try not to use sharp weapons, because I was trained in a monastery where the monks believe that the spirit lives in the blood, and to spill the blood of another is sacrilegious.”
Excellent! That brings up other questions as well. How do you feel about your teammates spilling blood? Do you mind working with blasphemous infidels who spill the blood of others? Where do you draw that line, and why? How do you respond when your own blood is spilled?
Voltaire said “Common sense is not so common”.
When your character goes about their job, how do they approach it? Do they rush in? Do they make a plan first? Do they plan so much that their teammates become impatient with them?
Where Ethics sets a standard for conduct, methodology sets a standard for how the character goes about performing their tasks. Most of us don’t think about our methodology, unless perhaps after we make a mistake. Then we make corrections and our methodology changes.
A person’s methodology gives you a look at their personality.
If your character doesn’t value making plans, and says things like, “A plan is just a list of things that never happen”, then that says something about them. A person like that probably feels similarly about other things. Perhaps they are impatient or cocky. Maybe they trust that everything will work out for the best in the end. Maybe they are in denial about the mistakes they’ve made and instead blame things on others.
An obsessive planner has gone the other way. They try to control as much as they can, leaving as little as possible to chance. Perhaps they take their responsibilities seriously. They might be tense and easily angered. Maybe they don’t trust anyone else to do what needs to be done, making them an overachiever.