Edmond Dantès from Alexandre Dumas,’ The Count of Monte Cristo is a successful merchant sailor living in Marseille, France (in 1815) who is wrongly accused of being a Bonapartist traitor. Edmond is imprisoned for fourteen years in the Château d’If. Pain and suffering ruin his colorful outlook on life…he transforms into a protagonist determined to seek revenge upon the men who imprisoned him, and he does this, so beautifully. Once Edmond becomes the Count of Monte Cristo, anything and everything he has is used to manipulate the wickedness in his life for the sake of vengeance.
Edmond feels justified; his motives for becoming a “gray” character…one whose thoughts and actions are not entirely right or wrong, whose morals have blurred into the gray area, adds danger and excitement to Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo.
I love characters smothered in gray—who are torn between right and wrong, who ache to do what’s right, but have lost their way. In my science fiction adventure, Guardian 2632, Zane Grayson fights with his conscience about betraying the time monitoring facility he’s in charge of, called Guardian TMF, because a pastian from 1998 needs his help, or she will perish. He is forbidden to assist pastians without clearance from the Elite Guardians, yet Zane is drawn to this pastian, named Julia Emerson, like never before. His desire for Julia becomes incessant, secrets are revealed. Zane’s sense of belonging in 2632 is stolen by Julia, so he dives into the gray area where chaos rules. A murky, dark shade of gray envelopes Zane, while he plans the most important mission of his life, however, if caught…merciless Time Mercs will execute him. Yeah, Time Mercs are big, bad, and ugly.
Adding gray is good for character building! Why? Do you know anyone who is perfect? I do not, and that’s okay because the imperfections found in us all make us unique. Spicing up your characters with moral dilemmas where they will either rise to the occasion and do the right thing, or fall into an abyss of misery are ways to push a story forward. Perfect characters would always decide to do the safe and logical thing, which doesn’t make for much of a story. Oh, but when a character, like Edmond Dantès goes to the pits and back to finally see the light…ah, now there’s sweet satisfaction found in that!
Think about your characters. Are their personalities, desires, and goals so lovely…and absolutely dreamy that they come across as unbelievable people?
For example, Zane Grayson (protagonist in Guardian 263) is a mastermind in charge of fixing paradoxes throughout time. I even used his last name as a hint to show he’s a character splattered with gray traits. It would’ve been easy to make him a super techie with a personality similar to a robot. His looks, temperament, dialogue, and habits could’ve been the typical, calm genius who wears glasses, always has a white lab coat on, has no desire for anything other than knowledge, and his only hobby would have to be building computers. B-o-r-i-n-g!
Zane left that nonsense behind. Going gray meant this character had to…
- Be at odds with his conscience-Zane is a good man, but flaws exist. He time surfs (looks for paradoxes throughout time in unauthorized time zones), refuses to follow Guardian TMF’s dress code for executives, is an adrenaline junkie…needs danger and risk too often, he’s stubborn to the point some would say he’s insane, has quite a temper, and Zane is willing to risk everything he has in 2632 to help a pastian (Julia Emerson) in 1998. His ancestry is a mix of Japanese and European, and he is quite sarcastic. Going gray made him more interesting!
- Understand his definitions of right and wrong are not written on white paper with black ink-Zane comes to realize laws must be written to serve people…all people, and not be written as a means to justify helping only the history makers. The gray area is an uncomfortable one to be in, but it forces characters to do something…Zane decides to fight for change.
- Finally make decisions about what he believes is right and wrong-Once Zane becomes aware of things that needed altered, his grayness fades a bit as he steps back toward the light. He chooses to set things right.
What characters come to mind who are painted with gray? Riddick, from The Chronicles of Riddick is one of my favorites! He has a whole lot of gray going on… If you’re an author, what have you done to your characters to make them a bit on the gray side?
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