Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Coffee with a Writer: The Gray Character

Discussing The "Gray" Character

No. I'm not talking about everyone's favorite BDSM-loving red-room character. When I say "the gray character" I mean the character who's neither good nor evil, but walking the line between both. 

Hi all! It's cold outside and I'm sitting here watching the snow fall and thinking about my favorite characters in fiction. I've realized that so many of them are what I'd term "the gray character". I think back over the books that I love and continuously re-read and that's one commonality between them all. 

There's a difference between the anti-hero character, who does something noble or good contrary to his nature for his own gain. Those kinds of characters are fun, too, but they're not truly gray. They are mostly dark characters with little redeemability aside from the one good act we may see them do in the story. A truly gray character stands firmly on the line between light and dark, good and bad. Gray characters do equally as many "good deeds" as bad, and could kill and maim as easily as they help and heal. Typically, the gray character believes in the balance of light and dark and does follow at least some moral imperative that keeps him from going fully bad. He may have lines he refuses to cross, or past experiences that have predisposed him to feel empathy for one kind of person over another. Oftentimes, the gray character is the one who kills in battle indiscriminately, but would save a woman/child from being attacked on the street or in their home. 

Why do I love gray characters? In both reading and my own writing I find that the gray character is more like most of us than those who are too good, or too bad. Most of us have done things we aren't proud of, but we strive to do good things, too. Likewise, most villains in the world have some redeeming characteristics like their love of small animals or their respect for their mothers. No one rarely sits squarely in the good or evil realm, but most are more or less one or the other. The gray character is fun to write and read because he is unpredictable. Depending on his view of the situation he could either save the people from the fire or be the one burning down the building. Characters like these keep readers guessing, but also have stories that make readers feel for them. 

Examples, Amy! Okay, readers. Okay. Let's see. One of my favorite gray characters in fiction is Kaleb Krychek from Heart of Obsidian by Nalini Singh. Kaleb appears as a relatively shadowy character in the other books of the series up until this book, which is his story. While he was mostly assumed to be a villain, it's interesting in this book to learn that Kaleb isn't as dark as he seemed. He controls a vast amount of power, and one particular goal that, when learned by the reader, turns all of his previous acts on their heads. His motives, you see, redeem (in part) his actions prior. He's still not good as we would define it, but neither is he the villain we imagined him to be. There has never been a better flip from villain to hero for a character in romantic fiction, in my opinion. 

Heart of Obsidian: A Psy-Changeling Novel (Psy/Changeling Series Book 12)

Another of my favorite gray characters is Roland of Gilead, main character of Stephen King's The Dark Tower series. Roland is both hero and villain of his story, an opus that spans millenia and worlds in his quest to see The Dark Tower. Somewhat based on the legends of King Arthur, The Dark Tower stories follow Roland as he travels toward the center of existence where the tower stands. The thing about Roland is that he is both a loveable and unlikeable character at the same time. He is selfish, determined to see the tower at any cost, and his single-minded pursuit of the tower costs the lifesblood of his greatest friends. King's ability to weave a tale in which you both worship and despise the last gunslinger in a world that has moved on, is one of the best pieces of character fiction in the industry.

So now you know that I'm slightly obsessed with characters who straddle the line between the light and the dark. When I was writing Resonance Factor, book IV of the Aeon Project series for Takamo Universe, I wanted Sevyn to be just this type of character. He's both broken and strong, angry and terrified, good and determined to win at any cost. He's my favorite Aeon Project hero so far, because he had the most to gain if only he could give love a chance. 

Dark Star: (Takamo Universe) Aeon Project Book 2

Now, I put this question to you, dearest readers. Who is your favorite character in fiction, and WHY?

Happy Reading!
~AR DeClerck


  1. I love gray characters too.

    I just finished the Yarnsworld series by Benedict Patrick, and each book's protagonist was a gray character. Each of them was flawed - selfish, focused on power and their own fame - but they were willing to sacrifice themselves for the greater good and for others without hesitation.

    I try to write my characters gray as well. They're much more interesting that way.

    1. Love it! Grays are so multi-faceted and it's easy to play woth motivation and think about what the definition of good and bad really means.

  2. Daemon in The Dark Jewels Triology. His only true devotion is to Janelle, not his family or anything else, it makes him dangerously unpredictable to those around him.



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