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I've come across a problem with one of the main characters in my book. The "heroine" of my story starts out as an apathetic self-absorbed hacker, who seeks adrenaline thrills to find meaning in her life. With that in mind, I tried to show this kind of outlook is not evil, but neutral instead (the theory that all humans are self-interested). To make a point that she's not evil, I've shown that she refuses to cause physical harm to anyone, and won't work with a hacker organization that kills people. At the same time though, she didn't care about their agenda to expose a company that exploited child workers, because it doesn't affect her at all.

Here's a little exchange she has with another hacker, whom she helped to expose a corrupt organization (The MC is Joyce, aka Banshee_Harvest)

Banshee_Harvest: The infiltration went without a hitch, I managed to copy their entire database onto my hard drive. I’ve sifted through the code too, you were right. They were exploiting children for labor.
G00fy: That’s what I thought. I’m impressed Banshee, the TLF were ready to sift through that code with you. I’m glad that it ended up being so easy. It’s just another domino in the effort to free the people of these corrupt corporate executives.
Banshee_Harvest: Save your preaching for someone who actually cares. I was in this solely for the thrills. I’m uploading the files now #2_files_attached (New_labor_contract.pdf, Redacted_labor_contract_CONFIDENTIAL.pdf)
Banshee_Harvest: I’ll send the rest of the content if you’d like that, but I think that’ll be enough.
G00fy: Aren’t you the one who is always complaining that they need a cause to join? What’s so bad about the TLF?

Joyce swiveled in her chair, tucking her legs in, remembering the uneasiness she felt earlier.

Banshee_Harvest: I don’t like the rumors about you guys. You’re not afraid to hurt people to get what you want. And I don’t want to end up on that side of the fence. The ends don’t always justify the means.
G00fy: Lol, yet here you are, working as one of the most profitable hackers in the country, if not the world.
Banshee_Harvest: I don’t throw people under the bus to get what I need. You do.
G00fy: Listen, we do what we have to, no more, no less. The sacrifice of the few, or the one is for the good of the many, am I right?
Banshee_Harvest: Don’t try to push your fascist beliefs on me, I’ve heard about what you’ve guys done.
G00fy: We’re only trying to help. And I do mean that.

Joyce sighed in frustration. G00fy could be annoying at times. She didn’t want to join them. This was a one-time thing, and she meant it.

Banshee_Harvest: As I’ve told you many times before, NOT INTERESTED!
G00fy: Okay, you don’t have to shout. Thanks for your help, btw.
Banshee_Harvest: Np. However, there is the matter of paying me still. I think I should negotiate my price considering all that I was able to do, don’t you agree?
G00fy: I’ll have to talk with the other members about that, but you did agree to a 25 bitcoin price, which is a fair sum of money.
Banshee_Harvest: But I think, with all that I’ve done here, I do deserve a 5 bitcoin bonus, don’t you agree?
G00fy: That’s pretty hefty, like more than I can vouch for at least. Like I said, I’ll have to talk to the others about this. Thanks for your help though. The 25 should have already been sent to your account.

One of my reader's described Joyce (Banshee_Harvest) like this, "I'm hating Joyce right now. Her character is contradictory. She's selfish and a criminal. And she deserves to be in jail. Plus she's apathetic and arrogant and I don't see any redeeming qualities to her. So if I'm supposed to feel this way, you've succeeded. But I don't think I want to live with her as the protagonist of this book. I'll just want to keep shooting her in the head."

The purpose of this novel is to show her transformation from someone who is chaotic neutral to lawful good. However, I can't begin that transformation if my readers hate my character. How can I portray a chaotic neutral character as sympathetic and avoid making them seem evil? Or how can I make a selfish character relatable?

I understand that morals can be ambiguous, but it's important that my readers can at least relate to this character so they give her a chance. However, my character is really self-absorbed (she really doesn't have anything driving her other than thrill and money: at least at first.)

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    As a general comment, this question comes close to "What to Write" but I think we can keep it general enough to be applicable. Please keep that in mind in your answers. – Lauren-Reinstate-Monica-Ipsum Mar 7 at 17:04
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    "apathetic self-absorbed hacker" Again? – Apologize and reinstate Monica Mar 8 at 15:55
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    The easiest answer to the title is that the character needs to be 'good'ish just as much and as often as 'evil'ish. – CGCampbell Mar 8 at 16:50

13 Answers 13

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I think the problem is that for somebody that doesn't care, Banshee gets awfully worked up about not caring, and this emphasizes an evil side, not a neutral side. I think you are trying too hard to TELL us she is neutral, instead of just showing her being neutral.

I'd edit the following exchanges:

After " to free the people of these corrupt corporate executives" you have:

Banshee_Harvest: Save your preaching for someone who actually cares. I was in this solely for the thrills. I’m uploading the files now #2_files_attached

I think that is too much TELL. I'd show she doesn't care:

Banshee_Harvest: Whatever. I'm uploading the files now ...

After, "What’s so bad about the TLF?" you have

Banshee_Harvest: I don’t like the rumors about you guys. You’re not afraid to hurt people to get what you want. And I don’t want to end up on that side of the fence. The ends don’t always justify the means.

Too much exposition, you've said the same thing four times. I'd change it:

Banshee_Harvest: You hurt people. I don't hurt people. See the difference?

After "we do what we have to do ... for the good of the many, am I right?" You have:

Banshee_Harvest: Don’t try to push your fascist beliefs on me, I’ve heard about what you’ve guys done.

"Fascist beliefs" is too much, and after G00fy expresses a philosophy, she can summarize her own philosophy:

Banshee_Harvest: No, you're wrong, because you don't HAVE to do anything. The many are way more powerful than me! They can take care of themselves, and I will take care of myself.

I think for a neutral, this is a fine position. It is a fact that the 99% far outnumber the 1% of oppressors ruling the world, and they usually far outnumber the armies and police of the oppressors. It is only their own refusal to take up the risk of revolt and casualties that keeps them oppressed. In other words, they are not going to risk their lives to help themselves and their fellow oppressed, and if they are not willing, why should she take any risk on their behalf?

She can still be interested in a cause (like helping journalists with information). She can still feel sympathy for the oppressed, the trafficked girls, the people robbed of their pensions. She may still decide to do something about it when she's bored and the risk isn't great.

I also think its fine if her public or professional face is set to only care if there is money in it for her. But privately, I would write such a character as occasionally seeing something on the news or the Internet, and casually engaging in a bit of easy hacking to deliver a little Karma to a jerk, just because she likes hacking, and likes the satisfaction of balancing the equation now and then. She may think its funny.

A crack in her shield will make it easier for you to break the wall of feigned indifference (which you have already suggested exists if she has in fact said on several occasions that she is looking for a cause.)

  • +1 for the occasional, benevolent hacking. – Shawn V. Wilson Jul 6 at 19:01
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I found a very elegant reduction of alignments in a Tumblr post:

I figured out a simple guide to the alignment chart last night:

Lawful: Rules matter more to me than individuals.

Chaotic: Individuals matter more to me than rules.

Good: Other people’s well-being is more important than my own.

Evil: My own well-being is more important than other people’s.

Neutrals: My opinion of what is more important is determined on a case-by-case basis.

So a Lawful Good character’s guiding moral philosophy might be “I follow the rules because the rules keep people safe, even if they are sometimes inconvenient or harmful to me or other individuals.” A Chaotic Evil character’s guiding moral philosophy would be like “Screw the rules and screw you.”

If Joyce is Chaotic, she's concerned with individuals more than corporations (so she won't kill, because that would harm an individual). If she's Neutral, then sometimes she will decide that people are worth helping, and sometimes she won't.

If you want to show her as Neutral rather than Evil, then you need a Pet the Dog moment. (TV Tropes warning!) You need to show that she is in the middle of the Good-Evil spectrum, and that she is capable of doing good things if it interests her. Ignoring child labor shoves her towards Evil, so I see your beta's point. There's a difference between self-interest and self-absorption. "I don't have to do anything about child labor because I don't know the kids" is not Neutral, it's Asshole.

The journey from Neutral to Good is not a long one. But going from Chaotic Good (I will help other people, regardless of the rules) to Lawful Good (I will help other people as long as I can follow the rules to do so, and I won't break the rules to help people) is honestly the bigger challenge here. How do you get Joyce from "screw you, I do what I want" to "I can't stop GlobalMegaCorp from using child labor because it operates in Backwardsia, where there are no laws against it"?

If you want your Leeeeeeeroy Jenkins! protagonist to be appealing, you have to make her appealing. She has to do things we like, or find fun, or could sympathize with. A selfish character can still be "not a jerk" if the character is capable of not being selfish all the time.

Loki is a Chaotic Neutral who repeatedly swings from Evil to Good. Captain Jack Sparrow is a Chaotic Neutral who isn't as Evil as he pretends to be. Petyr Baelish is a Chaotic Evil who pretends to be Good. None of them could suffer to be Lawful.

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    Great answer! I knew I was forgetting something. I think you're right in suggesting that she needs an appealing side, otherwise she just comes across as a jerk. – Joe-You-Know Mar 7 at 17:17
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    I think "so she won't kill, because that would harm an individual" is taking it too far. Chaotic personalities are not (necessarily) extreme pacifists. Chaotics simply don't follow the "pro conformity" philosophy that is commonplace for Lawfuls. At an extreme, they never make sweeping statements, question everything, and judge it for themselves. Chaotics are people who go by their own compass above any predetermined convention. – Flater Mar 8 at 10:19
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    Also, I think Petyr Baelish is a Chaotic Evil who pretends to be Chaotic Neutral (not Good) who sometimes seems to pick your side. But he doesn't quite fit with (pretend) Good because he doesn't particularly paint himself to be an upstanding citizen, but rather someone who lives (and thrives) in the morally grey zone. – Flater Mar 8 at 10:23
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    While I think this D&D-type classification is very limiting and leads to bad, clichéd writing in any case, I also think this description of the alignments is flawed. It transforms the original idea into a "postmodern" one. The original idea is that evil characters are evil. They like killing and seeing people suffer, that's it. This reinterpretation as evil people being nothing but egotists is problematic, as it basically says that egoistic people are evil. They are not. What you are doing is to superimpose a utilitarian ethical system onto the alignments. – PoorYorick Mar 8 at 12:07
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    @Spectrosaurus It's a tool. Use it or don't as you see fit. The decision to use the tool has already been made by the OP; we are discussing how best to use and apply the tool. If this philosophical framing of character doesn't work for you, you are not obliged to use it in your writing, but I don't think it's fair to say "creating and analyzing a character this way will always lead to 'bad, clichéd writing.' " – Lauren-Reinstate-Monica-Ipsum Mar 8 at 19:34
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You need to figure out what your story's theme is. And then you need to take Joyce on a journey that forces her to make decisions about that theme. That will define whether she's good or evil within the context of your story.

I'm going to go on a bit of an aside here. Whether your character is chaotic neutral or lawful good or whatever doesn't matter for crafting a good story. RPG alignments aren't really about good and evil, but are more like a knock-off personality test that works well for a specific type of setting. In the end, as in real life, characters' moralities are defined by what they do. If an ostensibly chaotic evil character ends up stopping a cultic ritual to summon a powerful demon, isn't that a heroic action? And if an ostensibly lawful good character throws people who were looting to survive desperate times in jail, isn't that discompassionate? To be clear, I'm not saying not to give Joyce an alignment - it can still be helpful for understanding her personality. Just don't be married to it.

Instead of worrying a great deal about your character's alignment, you would be wise to focus on your story's theme. A good story is more than just a series of interesting events that happen to somebody. This is why you'll hear about ideas like The Hero's Journey, the 3-act structure, and the flow of rising action into a climax mentioned so often and treated as though they apply to every story. It's because they do.

And at the heart of all of those ideas is a story's theme. When a story begins, the MC is naive, immature, or broken in some way that's important to the world. Then, when the inciting incident occurs, they're forced to deal with that piece of their world very directly. The question is, will they be able to learn how to deal with this new reality? If they do, then they're a hero, regardless of what form that takes. If they can't, they've either become a villain or a tragic hero.

A lot of these themes are straightforward. In Harry Potter, Harry grows up in a family defined by selfishness, then is thrown into a world of magic with some people who are generous and altruistic and others who are even more selfish then his aunt and uncle. The question is, can he become a hero by fully embracing the selflessness the good guys stand by?

But in some stories, the moral logic can become quite convoluted! In the movie Inception, the main character, Dom, is a man who accidentally led his wife into committing suicide by messing with her dreams. He's been broken in two ways ever since: He can't get over his wife's death, and he's unwilling to go as deep into dreams as he did so comfortably at one point in his life. When he's tasked with not just stealing information from a victim's mind but planting an idea in his head, the question is twofold: Can he successfully pull off the reverse heist, and can he overcome his hangups with his wife?

The ending of Inception is a little backwards. Dom succeeds in manipulating his target's mind. Outside of the framework of the story, this would seem to be a very selfish, evil thing to do - taking away someone else's free will! But in Inception, the main character is treated as a successful hero. This is because the action he takes - pulling off the reverse heist - answers the question of the theme - can he return to the world of dreams? His decisions would probably be classified as chaotic evil in an RPG alignment system, but the bravery he showed was core to his specific story. Furthermore, the story doesn't end until Dom goes too deep and gets lost in a dream abyss with his memories of his wife. In order to escape, he has to overcome this manifestation of his grief. The story could not have possibly ended satisfyingly before that point, even though he succeeded in his primary goal, because the question of his unresolved guilt was tied to one of the story's central themes.

All of this is a long-winded way of saying: Don't worry about whether Joyce is "good" or "evil" in the abstract. Instead, figure out what the central question of your story is, then decide how Joyce is challenged by and ultimately overcomes or falls to that question. Your readers can and will debate the merits of Joyce's decisions in the broad sense forever. But they will root for her if she's dealing with the core issues in your story regardless.


From the snippet in your question, I already see several possible core themes for your story:

G00fy: That’s what I thought. I’m impressed Banshee, the TLF were ready to sift through that code with you. I’m glad that it ended up being so easy. It’s just another domino in the effort to free the people of these corrupt corporate executives.
Banshee_Harvest: Save your preaching for someone who actually cares. I was in this solely for the thrills.

Will Joyce start caring about corporate corruption? And if so, will she be successful in bringing that corruption to heel?

G00fy: Aren’t you the one who is always complaining that they need a cause to join? What’s so bad about the TLF?

Joyce starts out not wanting to care about how her actions affect anyone but herself. But when she gets caught in webs that tie her to other people whether she likes it or not, will she be willing to commit to something bigger than herself?

Banshee_Harvest: I don’t like the rumors about you guys. You’re not afraid to hurt people to get what you want. And I don’t want to end up on that side of the fence. The ends don’t always justify the means.
G00fy: Lol, yet here you are, working as one of the most profitable hackers in the country, if not the world.
Banshee_Harvest: I don’t throw people under the bus to get what I need. You do.
G00fy: Listen, we do what we have to, no more, no less. The sacrifice of the few, or the one is for the good of the many, am I right?

Despite pretending like she doesn't care what happens to others, Joyce can't stand the thought of hurting others. But she has abilities that can bring about a happier future for many if she's willing to pull the proverbial trolley's lever. Once she inevitably makes that decision once, how will she respond when she is put in increasingly twisted zero-sum games and forced to choose who lives?

Any of these would be a strong direction for your story to go in. You've asked the questions yourself pretty directly in the conversation you posted, I'm just making them explicit! And if you have a different central theme in mind, that works too. Regardless of what you choose, make sure Joyce's journey revolves around that theme. At that point, it won't matter whether her decisions would be classified as good or evil, lawful or chaotic - your readers will root for her regardless.

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Banshee_Harvest: Save your preaching for someone who actually cares. I was in this solely for the thrills.

That response is quite extreme. Neutral would be more like:

Banshee_Harvest: No worries. It was fun.

The focus is still on the wrong thing, i.e. The fun.

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    This is what my beta reader told me really bothered them. I think it pushed too much evil. Thanks for the advice! – Joe-You-Know Mar 8 at 6:14
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    Agreed! The moment my brain pinged JOYCE IS EVIL is when she went out of her way to make a point of the degree of her not caring about exploited children. To me a simply selfish but not total asshole person's response would be like, "No problem. It was fun and I got paid." Her focus in on what is in it for her, but she doesn't go out of her way to be (or make herself look like) a jerk for no reason. – Meg Mar 8 at 16:50
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So it's important to note that morality (good vs. evil question) is not the same as legality (Lawful vs. Chaos). A prime example would be a Nazi solider who guards a concentration camp (Lawful) from a German resistance member, who tries to free the prisoners (Good).

If we look at the Loony Tunes, we find a bevy of Chaotic Neutral Charactes (Most silly cartoon characters are). For example, think about the start of any Bugs Bunny Cartoon... Bugs isn't looking for trouble... he's sleeping and something above his burrow disturbs his sleep... or he's singing a song, totally unaware it's bothering someone... or he's made yet another wrong turn at Albuquerque and is trying to correct course. Either way, he is not maliciously in his present situation, and would show himself out if the villain of the short wasn't angry by the trespass and takes out his anger on Bugs... and of course you know, this means war. The same is true with Daffy Duck, but Daffy's humor is reliant on his overconfidence and underestimation of his foe... Naturally when he and Bugs show up, Bugs is merely passive aggressive. He would never hurt Daffy... but he won't stop Daffy from hurting himself. One the few foes to Bugs is Cecil the Turtle (Tortoise and the Hair) who is to Bugs what Bugs is to Daffy.

The only two Loony Tunes to not be Chaotic Neutral are Ralf Wolf and Sam Sheepdog. Sam will protect the Sheep from the antics of Ralf, who wants to eat them... that is until the 5 pm whistle blows... then they clock out and have a friendly chat... and carpool back home! This is Lawful Neutral and was basically poking fun at the Bugs Bunny cartoons. Ralf and Sam were the best of buds... but hey, Sheep ain't gonna guard themselves (and more bizarrely, aren't gonna steal themselves).

Animaniacs also worked with the aspect in their show. One of their "Enemies" was a parody of Mary Poppins who... wasn't malicious at all. Sure, she was very smothering, but she wasn't being mean and actually cares for the trio's well being... They break the fourth wall to point out that, under normal conditions, she'd be fair game, but technically, she hasn't tried to do anything wrong to them, she's just too friendly, so they can't pull their usual pranks on her.

In all, I tend to define Chaotic Neutrals as being temperamental to either side. Sure, she said she'd help you yesterday, but today she isn't. No, she doesn't need a reason... or at least... you're going to have to work for that answer because it should be obvious. Her attitude shouldn't be abrasive by intent... she should honestly not care what happens... and will only actually fight if someone else makes trouble (On fighting, CNs would rather not, but if you're gonna force me to fight, I'm gonna fight you, and if you get this far, I have no sympathy for someone who failed to realize no rules means no rules about fighting fair).

For your scene, I would change that she doesn't seem disgusted by the child labor... she just pointing it out because Goofy will do something about it... She could tell Goofy that she doesn't believe in his cause... but not tell him why because Goofy should know. When Goofy presses the issue, she should reveal that he should be wondering why it was easy for her to get in. When he does finally cave and wonder about it, she should mention that she got in by not being careful and and leaving a trace back to the source. Of course, when asked why she wanted the bad guys to come to her front door, she reveals they're at Goofies... cause she did a careful hack into his system... and then did the sloppy one from his system.

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First, love your character. If you don’t, why should the readers care? Make her more than just this skill she has - make her who she is rather than what she does.

I have a hacker character who is a charming neutral, but assists assassins in a professional capacity. Most of what he does is what one might expect, but he takes joy in the challenge of checking a company’s security. He does other things, but has become the go-to if you need information that cannot be obtained otherwise.

I started with him as just some semi-anonymous person on the dark-net. That lasted about five minutes as he developed into an interesting charismatic person.

Joyce has a line she won’t cross, but acts as she does - why? Is she, like my hacker, intensely curious and striving to always improve his skills? Apathy is dangerous, self-absorbtion can be irksome.

Give her a reason why she became Banshee. Who was she when she was just Joyce? She is trying to do some good by exposing this corporation, but why? The bitcoin? Or does she care, even if she doesn’t really know it herself?

Does she perform this service because she believes, even subconsciously, in something? Is she a pure mercenary? Or does she charge what she does as a way of both justifying it to herself and fining those who have gone too far, who have no boundaries that she can see?

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    I like this. Having her show more confliction and hesitation would help her be more believable especially when she starts to transition to a good person. She thinks she doesn't care, but she does a little. I think showing that a bit could help her out. Bottom line is, she acts the way she does because she's trying to find something to care about. – Joe-You-Know Mar 7 at 17:16
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Part of the problem with this is that you are trying to make peoples value judgements for them. If people think that someone who doesn't

care about their agenda to expose a company that exploited child workers, because it doesn't affect her at all.

is doing something evil, there's not much you can do about that, beyond counter-balancing with bits of good to make a complex character. However:

she really doesn't have anything driving her other than thrill and money: at least at first.

There's not much you can do with that.

3

This coordinate system of Good through Neutral to Evil along one axis, and Lawful through Neutral to Chaotic along the other, is actually pretty specific to gaming. I'm sure the concept has spread beyond Dungeons and Dragons, but Googling "lawful evil wiki" takes you to the article "Alignment (Dungeons and Dragons)."

Many of your readers will not think of the world that way, and I would argue that perhaps you shouldn't either. Having a coordinate system in which to place the values of the characters is useful in a game, where it helps to have an somewhat abstractly described framework, almost a jungle gym on which to play the game. When you become sufficiently abstract to describe it in a game rulebook, you lose nuance. You have to treat your character as an individual who is, as we all do, making it up as she goes along.

Having said that, your question still stands. It's not like you have a dramatis personae at the beginning where each character has their alignment specified. Readers will decide what they think of your character whether or not they apply the label "chaotic neutral." And some will definitely dislike her for being selfish (probably myself included), but I think the only thing you can do is be true to your vision of her. You might think about why you believe that selfishness is not at least a mild form of evil, and try to embody your reasons in the story.

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Why she's not saving the world... (easy)

I think you're already on track to answer this. You said at one point in your comments that your character wasn't interested in saving everyone because she was self-interested and not worried about some awful thing that someone else caused.

Well, what would lead someone to not be worried about other people's problems? Having too many problems yourself. Which, if you pull it off right is fine. Being too busy to care is a real thing and seems already in line with your character. It doesn't have to be busy, but all we're really talking about is crowding out her ability to be too concerned about any one thing that's not directly affecting her. Give her enough emotional and local baggage and it'll be pretty easy to have her shrug off a request to do more.

"I don't have time to take down a drug ring, I need to eat before my big meeting and I haven't even prepared!"

Or the classic...

"I can't take down that drug ring, I have children to raise."

Or...

"Sure, I'll save the world; after my homework is finished."

There are lot of reasons to not do things that aren't going to help yourself and most of us organize our days regularly around such reasons. You're going to have bigger problems justifying why she's willing to take some actions that harm people than justifying why she's not taking actions. So...

Why she's making the world worse...

On balance anything she's doing to make the world worse for others you're going to have to demonstrate as not being that bad. Classic tropes are "they're ensured," "stormtroopers aren't people/robots don't have feelings," and "they deserved it." The point is you've got to keep your character from crossing a line and really hurting someone, or if they are going to do that maybe they own up to it later or do enough to really offset this in your readers mind or it was the least bad thing they could do given the circumstances.

The less of a sympathetic connection your reader feels to the person being harmed, the more likely you are to pull this off. If you can create space for justification, then your character has space to remain "not evil".

If you balance these two methods you should be able to create a character who is too troubled to be a big-time hero, but capable enough to get by in an unfair world by taking from those who won't be harmed or deserve it.

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    Another reason not to care about others is cynicism. You watch the news every day and don't feel a connection to a bunch of people dying, or whatever. They're just people and people die all the time – person27 Mar 8 at 5:47
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    @person27 One is a tragedy; a million is a statistic. – Lauren-Reinstate-Monica-Ipsum Mar 8 at 10:57
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I'm guessing from what you said earlier your are intending to have an arc making her more sympathetic to wider "good causes" so her being a jerk to start with that grows on you isn't a bad thing IF there are other more sympathetic characters to keep you involved (think Thomas Covenant for example) having her stuggle to care about people in abstract terms e.g. exploited workers on a different continent but caring extremely for individuals she knows you might want to think of it in terms on the circles of empathy framework where she has a definitive border that her experiences are going to help her expand. https://www.theemotionmachine.com/circles-of-empathy-why-we-care-about-people-to-different-degrees/ Alternatively maybe consider putting her somewhere on the autistic spectrum and rebuilding her attitudes accordingly

I'd suggest at the very least try one of the 16 personality tests answering as her and see if the answers you get match what you expect and see where it points you

2

I'm going to challenge the frame of this question: You say you want the character to be "Chaotic Neutral" while being self-centered but following her own strict moral code.

Your character is Lawful Evil. But, Evil doesn't mean Bad.


First, some definitions I'll be using - since it's hard to have a meaningful discourse over Good, Evil, Law, and Chaos without a shared understanding of what those entail.

Good means you're altruistic - sacrificing of yourself for the benefit of others. Neutral people are one of two things - either sacrificing of themselves for their own benefit, or sacrificing of others for the benefit of others. Evil means you're selfish - sacrificing of others for your own benefit.

Lawful means you are a champion of some sort of rules (your own, the law of the land, whatever) - following the rules isn't enough to classify as Lawful, just as not following the rules isn't enough to classify as Chaotic. Chaotic on this scale means you actively work against any sort of rules. Neutral people neither force their rules on others or actively work to dismantle rules.

And, importantly, the Source of Truth for what kind of alignment an action is rests solely on the person doing those actions - motivation and perception matter. And you can play around with what "SELF" means in context - if a character identifies as their family unit or their cult or whatever, they can be Evil while technically helping others (or Good while sacrificing of others) iff they identify primarily as "Member of Group" over "individual".


With that, your hacker is Lawful Evil. She does what she does primarily for her own enjoyment and thrill - thus she must be Neutral or Evil. She does these things at the expense of others, though (she appears totally safe, not taking a ton of risk, and other people will definitely suffer). Which puts her squarely under Evil. She also has a rock-solid moral code under her - it's not conventional, but it's important to her and she takes some actions based on it (not joining a group and getting annoyed about it).

Now, I'll note that you seem to be falling in a pit a lot of RPG players do - you want a character that acts and plays like Evil is defined, but you don't want the stigma associated with walking to the table with an "Evil" character (or rather, writing your character as Evil). Evil is not a bad thing. Evil characters can still be good protagonists. Their motives aren't as noble, but that doesn't mean their actions are less heroic - if an Evil character saves the world, it's usually because they live there... but they still saved the world.

With that in mind, for your writing you still have to make the character relatable. Something that can help with that is toning down the arrogance and high-horses Joyce sits on (don't push your fascist beliefs on me, angry yelling). And maybe trying to resolve some of the contradiction ("I don't throw people under the bus to get what I want"... while presumably throwing the company she just hacked under the bus for a bit of cash).

Other than broadcasting unlikeable traits a little less, you can also broadcast likeable traits a bit more - maybe she's got a sweet spot for kids, or a love of dogs, or maintains a super-useful FOSS library at a high standard. Whatever it is, you need something "nice" or at least enviable for readers to identify with or like about her.

When it comes down to it, if your character starts off as purely self-centered and self-motivated, she's selfish, plain and simple. If she comes of as selfish and unlikeable, readers probably won't like her - and that's okay. If there's a good supporting cast that helps captivate the audience while Joyce moves from Evil towards Neutral or Good (or even just a more likeable Evil), that's great. Don't get hung up on your character being Evil - after all, plenty of awesome characters are Evil (Tony Stark at many points, Loki, Boromir (Identifying as Gondorian > Individual), etc) and plenty of antagonists even are Good by their own lens. Good vs Evil isn't a great lens to even think about, unless you're in a setting that requires the concepts to exist - mostly because it pushes the connotation that Evil=Bad and Good=Awesome, which can lead to stale storytelling.

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You are trying to make a character who cares mostly about themselves appear not evil, when in most societies that is exactly what makes people be seen as evil.

Societies, by definition, work by having people care about other people. That's how groups, teams and on the larger scales tribes and societies work. Only if everyone cares about the others does the greater advantage to all manifest.

A neutral character should not be so self-absorbed. Your character tends too much towards evil to be seen as neutral. My suggestion would be to tone down all the "I don't care" parts. One the evil-neutral-good scale, I suggest you put "I don't care" on the evil part of the scale. The neutral position would be "I don't care enough to actually do something about it", which is a lot more relateable because most of us are in that position about most things. We simply can't act on everything that needs acting, even if in theory we agree that something should be done. Actually doing something would be the definition of good.

So, specifically, replace:

Banshee_Harvest: Save your preaching for someone who actually cares. I was in this solely for the thrills. I’m uploading the files now #2_files_attached (New_labor_contract.pdf, Redacted_labor_contract_CONFIDENTIAL.pdf)

with something like:

If you think so. Well, here's your files, the rest is up to you.

or if you want to retain the "in it for the thrills" part:

If you think so. It was an interesting challenge. Anyway, here are your files, the rest is yours.

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The problem probably is, in real life, "Neutral Chaotic" is called evil - perhaps psychopathic evil.

A good villain - ie, an "evil" villain - is a moral character. He wants a better world. Unfortunately, what he believes is a better world is what the writer, and, hopefully, the reader, believes is hell. Or (and) the methods he devises for attaining a better world are completely unacceptable. An "Evil" character, in the D&D sense, is a caricature. An actual villain is like Hitler - he wants nothing but good; it just happens that he equates "good" with "Judenrein", and that he thinks genocide is a good method if it accomplishes that goal.

So a "Neutral Chaotic" character, as one that simply doesn't care, will be felt as evil by a reader - perhaps the whole concept is only appropriate for RPG, not for creative fiction? (And to be true, not even all game systems use such concepts - a GURPS character, for instance, isn't good/neutral/evil nor lawful/neutral/chaotic.)

It can work; Lisbeth Salander is pretty much that. To quote your reader, "her character is contradictory. She's selfish and a criminal. And she deserves to be in jail. Plus she's apathetic and arrogant". Well, it is true she has redeeming qualities: she exerts her selfishness, criminality, and arrogance, against people Stieg Larsson has made us hate and despise, so it is a case of "grey and black" in which the black is so black that we end empathising with grey, nevermind how dark such grey is. It helps she isn't actually the protagonist, and that Blomqvist is much saner and agreeable. But evenso I fear the empathy only works while we are reading. I suppose not many people would be comfortable in the presence of someone half as deranged as Ms Salander.

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