“What are you doing?” He stands arms akimbo.

“Go away.”

“Rudyard don’t be sore.”

“You hear me the first time.”

He did, but he walks around any way. It sat down where he could see. He sees it and seemed satisfied. I think about killing him and I should.

“You could have stopped me, you should of, and it was your duty.”

“All hell, was this about the long-ass posting? That’s nothing my best beloved, nothing.”

“Not that that, this…” I point to my screen.


How should a hero of a story react when he has to kill another human being? Below I’ve listed the four ways which a realistic character should act. And by realistic I mean in regards to human nature.

First Example

Our hero murders someone because he has to. Yet the murder isn’t totally justified. Then he’s has to murder again and again (because of the plot demands of course).1 Now eventually the hero will become so awash with dread that he contemplates not fighting on or even ending his life. The story can end here if we want. However if he is a true hero he’ll pick up his sword (or gun, or what have you) and he’ll decide that what he’s fighting for is worth this, even if at the expense of his soul. For his duty will not expiate his sin’s, won’t make his acts any less heinous, but he decides that his duty is more important than his own self virtue.

1 I say multiple murders ‘cause that’s often the case in fiction. However the following anguish can come from a single act or anticipation of a single, especially horrific act.


He leans back and smiles, damn what a smile; made wide. Glasgow smile opens up and I can see all his teeth; ear to ear. Happy; I hate him as he thought I should. Though useless I try to reproach him.

“You screw up everything, everything I try to do but this… the one thing that I shouldn’t have wrote, written… whatever… stop smiling; you should have screwed this up and you know it, damn you stop smiling; you could of helped me out just here, damn you to hell stop smiling.”

I yell at the end and don’t expect to. But he, he’s just laughs his ass off, falling off his seat and laughs so much. I think his jaw will just come off. Through tears he says to me.

“Don’t you understand Rudyard? Don’t you understand my nature, my god; you don’t even understand what I am?”


Second example

Our hero is a soldier, in theory, but hasn’t done any killing yet. Now he gets to fighting and that’s all well and good ‘cause the people he’s killing are trying to kill him. Plus he doesn’t have much time to contemplate. But then something different happens; he has to kill someone up close and watch them die. Now here are three possibilities. First and most common, he’s already hardened by battle experience. It bothers him but he gets over it. Second and also common, he has a nervous breakdown and regrets all the killing he’s ever done. The third is the rarest in real life (thought it does happen) and offers the most literary opportunities. Rather than explain this myself I’ll let T.E. Lawrence explain in what may be the greatest scene in movie history.

T.E. Lawrence: I killed two people. One was… yesterday? He was just a boy and I led him into quicksand. The other was… well, before Aqaba. I had to execute him with my pistol, and there was something about it that I didn’t like.
General Allenby:That’s to be expected.
T.E. Lawrence: No, something else.
General Allenby:Well, then let it be a lesson.
T.E. Lawrence: No… something else.
General Allenby:What then?
T.E. Lawrence: I enjoyed it.

To finish this example I’ll just say that those who fight monsters are often in danger of becoming ones themselves.


“What’s to understand ‘bout a shit like…”

“No,” Almost through tears, he’s having a grand old time. “After all this you don’t understand me at all. And here I fancied ‘you a man of infinite resource and sagacity’. But you have still no idea what I am. I am everything your afraid to think.” He stands up; grabs me by the jaw. “Look at me, don’t look away, and look at me. I am your antithesis. I’m here cause… because you’re here. ”

I look at him deep, the abyss looks back; but I say this anyway “You just an evil S.O.B. who can’t walk three blocks without rapping a puppy…” He hits my head hard against the wall. I start to bleed.

“I’m not evil. You should know that, you’re…you’re better than that.”

“Sick, your twisted you’re…” He hits my head harder and little rivulets start to form.

“Please Rudyard listen…”

“Go to hell you sick son of a…”

“I don’t exist.”


Third example

Our hero is a perfectly adjusted solider. He’s been battled hardened and is mentally prepared to kill the enemy. Not cause he has anything against the enemy pre say but that’s just what he’s got to do. So at the end of the day they might respect and even admire the men their fighting, but they sure as hell would rather them get a bullet to their brains than them or any of their mates. Now for most the war ends and they go back home to sow their fields and what not. But some wars are worse than others and some people’s experience is likewise more horrific. So something happens, pick your event; I’m personally thinking of Achilles’ confrontation with Hector’s father. Anyway an odd thing happens; he feels despair for what he’s done, but likewise for what his enemies done and, more importantly, that atrocity like war can even happen at all.


I think the room spins. That could be the blunt force trauma. But am I really bleeding. Yes somehow I’m really bleeding.

“Listen Rudyard, I can’t be evil. I’m a slave too… you. You can decide that, whether you’re evil or good or something else. But I can’t decide what I am; I simply am.”

He takes another long drag and continues.

“Furthermore,” he says blows smoke in my face; now he has a cigarette. “I’m everything that makes your heroic. You don’t have any; well let’s face it, the awful truth of it. Your life’s pretty nice, and …boring. You have nothing… to struggle against… to fight… nothing. And so much, so dreadful much, of your mindset dear, is based in this premise; that you need to struggle to become better. So when all your normal struggles weren’t enough you created me, to stand in direct opposition of yourself. You see…”

He takes another long drag on his cigarette, and just to taunt me, the smoke comes out of his ears.

“A hero needs something to strive against, to contend with. But here’s your flaw. I’m not evil. Even if I was given all the powers in the world I still wouldn’t be. Cause I don’t have a say in the matter. I don’t wake up and decide that I want to be the basest example of human nature. So that’s why I gave you that. I let you imagine that you could understand things like me, actions like me. But you had to screw it up. You had to doubt yourself, you had to lose faith. You know for someone so religious you got no faith at all.”


Fourth example

In the first example our hero must act in spite of morality. However there is the hero’s who act outside of morality. There are some heroes who have such absolute faith their duty that though they might be filled with dread with the action they do not feel sorrow for themselves. They don’t despair that they transgressed morality because they have absolute faith that their duty is beyond morality. The classical hero of the first example repents and that is why he is great, but the “Knight of faith”2 does not need to repent and becomes greater still. This is called a teleological suspension of morality.

2 This concept of a Knight of Faith was invented by Soren Kierkegaard in Fear and Trembling. The novel discusses how Abraham can be called the greatest not despite but because of the near attempted sacrifice of his son. I highly suggest it for any interested in the subject and a copy of the novel can be read online.

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  1. Kevin on 12 January 2009, 12:03 said:

    This is a pretty good article (I find myself saying that a lot, but my praise isn’t worthless; rather, II has attracted some solid writers). ‘Pre say’ is actually ‘per se,’ latin origin.

    When I write a kill, my heros do it because it’s their business. They don’t think so much about the philosophy or the ethics, perhaps because I myself am not so philosophical. But in the context of the society they live in, our Judeo-Christian (in deference to II’s humanist readership, I’ll add the caveat that this is also a secular notion) ‘thou shalt not kill’ ideal would play less of a role.

    So, long story short, one must also consider the context of the hero’s society.

  2. Lionus on 14 January 2009, 23:40 said:

    Very true. “Thou shalt not kill” is heavily emphasized in our culture particularly.

  3. Krista on 19 January 2009, 17:30 said:

    How can there be a society where murder is permissible?

    Society forms when human give up certain natural freedoms in order to live together for mutual benefit.

    If the most fundamental human right is not protected (the right to exist), how can there even be a society?