And so we're finally here. The magnificent, ever so popular and edgy Gray characters are the object of our observation today!
Gray characters are those that sit on the fence, being not quite white and not quite black, and this ever walking the tightrope of the narrative's morality. Because they do that, they tend to be more unpredictable to the audience (since it's unclear what they will choose to do, the good thing or the bad thing) and thus they have an easier time of sparking the audience's interest. It's also easier to concoct and weave mystery, drama and suspense around such characters.
It's no wonder, therefore, that in this day and age of gritty reboots and edgy characters, the gray category is king.
In my eyes though, that is an illusion. In reality there are no real gray characters: either they're inherently good, with layers of black overlaid for various reasons (insert origin story here), or they're inherently evil with layers of white overlaid for various reasons (insert origin story here).
It's all a matter of the base of the gray character, which (again in my opinion), emerges and can be determined only when the event that constitutes the “trial by fire” for that character happens: the one event where the character will ALWAYS choose one of the two extremes, black or white, is the event that determines that character's base. All the rest can be ascribed to happenstance, context and previous life events and life learning, and thus can be morphed and changed throughout the character's arc.
Such “trial by fire” events could be anything, as long as the stakes are high and the result irreversible post-decision. They don't have to be dilemmas involving altruism- in fact if risk to one's own life or general interest isn't on the table, the decision regarding the event might be even starker in demonstrating the character's true underlying alignment.
“Trial by fire” events could be something as simple as choosing or not choosing to call 911 for someone else's predicament, as dramatic as running into a burning building to save someone/something, as subtle as fading into the background to allow a loved one to find happiness.
And what if after such an event, the character chooses and thus, deep down, is not on the fence anymore but stands firmly on the side of good or evil of the spectrum? Does that mean they can't jump on again, or change sides?
Absolutely they can. But if the writing is good, I think that such occasions are actually very rare when it comes to gray characters. The underlying alignment usually remains, whether it is buried even deeper, or comes more to the surface.
Some gray characters that spring to my mind are Leon from the Professional, Derek Vinyard from American History X, John Wick and Beatrix Kiddo from Kill Bill.
But I have the feeling that, at least with the approach I'm suggesting, who constitutes the white, who constitutes the black and who constitutes the gray character can easily be argued that it is in the eye of the beholder.
…to a point. ;)
Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, April 28, 2018
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