I’m currently working on a series with a pretty violent setting, centered around a nation oppressed by a brutal regime and on the verge of civil war.
Some of my main characters are just as violent as their environment made them to be. Others are more diplomatic and peaceful but still competent fighters. And to that I’d like to add some who are active pacifists and use nonviolent actions to change things.
Do you have any advice on how to handle nonviolent characters in a world that tries to push them to violence? How to make them fit and interact with characters of the same alignment and objectives, but very different methods? And how to make them relatable and interesting for an audience who may find irritating characters that don’t solve the conflicts in more summary ways?
Thanks in advance,Tom
Hey, Tom, great to hear from you again!
The key to non-violent characters in violent stories is to avoid making them seem naïve or judgmental. Fiction is full of characters who scold the protagonist for daring to defend themselves, which you want to avoid at all costs. Not only are such characters annoying, but also they can push unfortunate messages. In real life, it is much more likely that people will jump to violence when it isn’t necessary than to shun violence when it is, so demonizing non-violent ideals is a bad look.
A possible exception is if you’re portraying people who are silent when privileged groups are violent but speak up loudly when marginalized groups fight back. These people aren’t actually against violence, but they often act like they are, so portraying them negatively is A-OK.
But it doesn’t sound like that’s what you’re going for, so you’ll want to focus on how these pacifist characters try to get things done without violence. Do they deliver food and medicine to those in need? Do they lock arms to obstruct the passage of military supplies? Do they mediate disputes between the more violent characters?
There are lots of ways that non-violent characters can still push back against oppression, many of them difficult and dangerous. If your characters are going to argue over whether to use violence to solve a problem, it should be a practical discussion rather than a moral lecture. Perhaps there is disagreement over whether assassinating the imperial governor will aid the rebel cause or turn more people against them. So long as it isn’t “fighting back makes you as bad as them,” you should be good.
Hope that answers your question, and good luck with your writing!