I have a character, a secondary antagonist who is following his sense of duty and pursuing a former asset.

Said asset is injured, tired and cornered, seriously considering making a stand and going out taking as many of the hunters as possible.

The secondary antagonist realizes that the ones they are chasing have been behaving more honourably than they have. Their initial attack was met with tranquilizers so most of their casualties are not casualties.

He also realizes that their actions, while effective and hardly a violation of protocol, just don’t seem right to him.

He suspects that driving the man to desperate acts might result in a desperate act which could be very costly to them in lives.

Secondary antagonist wishes to accomplish his mission with minimal loss of life - his in particular. It strikes this character that the best way to achieve this is not necessarily by shooting everything that moves, but by offering assistance in exchange for surrendering.

The ‘no one needs to die’ speech would be met with scepticism, but this man does not want to act like a villain. He is doing his job and if that means shooting everything, so be it, but it might be easier on all if the asset just tosses out his gun, accepts aid for himself and his partner and lives to fight another day.

There are no villains, just people doing what they think they must.

My question is how best to balance the man’s sense of duty and the requirements of his job with the not so silent voice of his conscience?

He feels angst and has a strong inclination to just shout ‘toss your weapons and we will bring medical assistance.

5 Answers 5


There is no conflict between duty and conscience

The man's duty is to neutralize the asset, with minimal loss of life and resources on his side. He would be doing his duty if he killed the asset or if he captured the asset.

You're saying he prefers at this point to capture the asset. This is not counter to doing his duty. In fact, there are many tactical advantages to it.

  • He removes the risk that the asset will do a suicide run and take out more of his soldiers.

  • He is more likely to come out of this alive and well himself.

  • He makes it possible for the asset to be questioned, which may prove useful.

  • He makes it easier for his side to discover who caused the asset to turn and how.

  • If the asset stole documents or materials, they are more likely to be recovered (less damage if they're on the asset's person and a possible route to find them if they are hidden).

The fact that the man would rather see his former ally alive is just a bonus feature.

Now, why would the asset agree to surrender? Because he is not a fool. All those reasons above are ones he can see as clearly as your reader. Maybe it's a trick to get him out in the open for a clean shot, maybe not. If he refuses to surrender, he (and his partner) will die. If he agrees to surrender, he has a good chance at living. Most people would take the chance at life, especially when it's also someone else's life.

As for the offer of medical assistance, that would be sincere. Why? Because the asset is of a lot more use to the man's allies alive. The man knows this. The asset knows this. This will influence his decision.


Duty is a kind of indirect conscience

His conscience tells him to fulfill his duty. His duty obligates him to perform actions which don't square with his conscience. Struggling to square that circle will never be simple, and SHOULD be the source of personal crisis and story drama.

Because the question is fundamentally conscience vs. conscience, it's an opportunity for the character to explore what he really values, and to put those values into action.


Secondary antagonist may be living by a code of honor, like samurai is living by Bushido. His sense of duty is strong, but he can't pursue his goals by violating his honor, and he respects the same sense of honor in his opponents.


There is a certain degree of overlap between 'duty' and 'conscience'.

In fact the way you describe it seems not so much as a moral dilemma as a practical problem. Taking the fugitive alive isn't contrary to his duty as such it is just more difficult to achieve and more in line with his sense of ethics. It's not as if he has a choice between killing him and letting him go entirely.

Equally in seeking to avoid a confrontation whcih would put his own men at risk his duty and conscience are in total agreement.

The specific problem seems to be convincing the fugitive that he is sincere in his offer of help.

  • Convincing this fugitive would be tricky. He is an assassin who went private and has recently been shot by one of the secondary antagonist ‘s colleagues. Just a bit of an uphill climb.
    – Rasdashan
    Nov 21, 2018 at 22:31

This is a great scenario, you could take it in all sorts of different directions. It depends what facet of the scenario you want to be the main theme. You said this person is a secondary antagonist so I guess there's a more important thread to weave with the principal antagonist. So is this a subplot or a needed bridge in the plot? The 2nd guy sounds like he's started to question some of the things he previously thought true. That could develop into full rejection of previous ideals, once the foundations were proved rotten. Or he could start to remember some past incident when he was in his quarry's position, get him to test his moral compass. Or he could over-ride his sentiment, kill his prey, then suffer (or not) the pangs of guilt and consciennce resulting. He might find out that he'd been tricked into killing the guy... or, maybe your plot needs the hunted to live? It's a great place to start from, whichever way you slice it :)

  • The hunted is my MC, the principal antagonist in this scenario has been sedated and kidnapped by a tertiary protagonist who is trying to come to the rescue - possibly ten minutes too late. Just in time to see the MC in custody - though whether the secondary protagonist who is his partner in this scene is separated from him remains to be decided. Her injury is more serious than his, so would be a consideration when deciding to surrender.
    – Rasdashan
    Nov 22, 2018 at 2:51

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