Friday, June 11, 2010

A Character’s Moral Convictions

Make Your Main Character Stand Out from the Rest

Do you want your main character to stand out in a natural and acceptable way? Try a subtle, yet powerful, character trait: strong moral convictions.

Moral conviction means making the right choice or doing the right thing. Usually, this involves making a sacrifice or letting go of something. When writing a story, creating a character with moral convictions shows, instead of tells, the reader that the main character either doesn’t fear being different, or would risk reticule from others for standing firm in his or her beliefs. To the character, the sacrifice involved would be worth making because it would result in the greater good for those he or she cares about.

For example, have him refuse to cheat at a game of cards though an opportunity presents itself. Or have him turn down the chance to be unfaithful to his girlfriend, even if he thought the other woman was irresistible. His courage in walking away would show he was a man of great self-control. In addition, it would show he had the insight to understand he would face consequences for his actions, even if no one else learned what he had done. Have her refuse to sleep with her fiancĂ© before they are married. Or have her refuse to ‘fudge’ the books at work or steal cash from the company drawer, knowing no one would ever suspect her. She would know and that would be enough to keep her from doing it.

The point is, create a main character that wants a clean conscience. Overdone character traits like walking with a limp or chain smoking won’t due. However, a character that will follow his or her convictions instead of doing what everyone else does, just because ‘everybody does it,’ will. A character willing to make the necessary sacrifice because he or she believes the outcome of the situation would be worth it, stands out.

In addition, a character’s strong moral conviction shows, instead of tells, that he or she has an inner strength that the other characters, and the reader, can’t help but respect. Even if they don’t agree or believe in his or her moral convictions, both reader and supporting characters should be impressed.

Because it’s never easy for anyone to stand alone in what they believe, the fact that a major character does makes him or her a more memorable and endearing character. Isn’t that what sells books? Strong, unforgettable, engaging and interesting characters, that against all odds, refuse to compromise their ethical beliefs under pressure.

Finally, remember to reveal the convictions in a subtle way. The main character cannot preach or brag about his or her beliefs. That would turn the reader off. The convictions must flow naturally throughout the story, as part of the storyline. By the character’s previous behavior, these convictions should also show that it’s the only way this character could react to the situation.

Read more at Suite101: A Character’s Moral Convictions: Make the Main Character Stand Out from the Rest


  1. What a great post. I have written 2 non-fiction books; and am in the process of the 3rd. When that is finished I want to do some fiction. I've been playing with some thank your for the advise!

  2. Your welcome. Can't wait to see what you come up with for fiction. What genre are you planning to write?