The Moral Dilemma

            A moral dilemma is a situation in which a person is torn between right and wrong and involves a conflict that forces a character to examine her own principles and values. The choices the person makes may leave them feeling burdened, guilty, relieved, or even questioning their own values. The individual must decide what actions she can live with, whether the outcome is unpleasant or even illegal.

Dilemmas form the central conflict that the protagonist encounters. Taking into consideration that real people face all kinds of dilemmas in life, the choices they make along the way can have long-lasting impacts in terms of effects on relationships and on society as a whole.

            Imagine asking someone out on a first date. Should he go to the museum or see a movie? If he decides on the movie option, which one, the romantic comedy or the high-speed chase? What happens if the date doesn’t like chase movies and so is disappointed and bored? The relationship might go nowhere fast.

            Let’s consider what the secretary should do when she discovers that he fire her, or if he’s desperate, kill her. If she ignores his actions, she might be a co-conspirator when the theft is revealed.

            Your task is to write a scene in which the protagonist is faced with a moral dilemma. Make the stakes high enough that the wrong decision places her in danger. Include enough description so that readers understand the situation, but not too much to slow down the scene. Dialogue is necessary to reveal the intricacies of the relationships involved.

            Have fun with this one.

The First Step

As the topic of a story is formulating in your mind, you must come up with the moral question. What is the probing question that the story is going to solve?

For example, in a coming-of-age story about a teenager who desires to be included in the popular group, the question might be “How do you join a group when you are seen to be an outsider?”

This quest for an answer drives the character’s motivation throughout the story. At the end, either the protagonist is now a part of that group, or has come to an epiphany that membership is not what she really wants. And why.

What if the main character sees an injustice in society at large and wants to correct it. The driving moral question would be “How do I motivate others to help me in this quest and what steps do I need to take to make things right?’

Perhaps the character sees poor kids going hungry in school which impacts their ability to learn. How will the protagonist provide healthy meals on a consistent basis?

Another part of the question is motivation. What happened to the protagonist that made her aware of the problem/issue? Why does she feel she is the one to correct the situation? What knowledge or experiences does she have that allows her to be the organizer?

Your task is to create a situation in which your character has a burning moral question that he is compelled to satisfy. First, define the question. Then make a list of possible solutions.

Establish the society in which the character lives, works, plays. Put things in motion and see what happens.

When you are finished, reread what you have written. If you are satisfied as a reader, great. If not, what changes need to be implemented to bring fulfillment?

Have fun with this one.