One of my MC's is a decision maker to turn the tides of war, the enemies have brought hostages, he tells the other MC (who has principles on not taking innocent peoples lives) to not worry about it. When the other MC is not around, he orders to kill the enemies even if hitting the hostages.

Will this kind of personality be protagonist-like? Id like to use this as a chance to dwelve more into his personality, but I dont want him to be hated by the readers, I mean its realistic and for the greater good.

It's war after all? but doesnt this make him a bad decision maker?

  • I think you'll get better answers if you make it clear which question you are asking, and edit your title to match.
    – wetcircuit
    Commented Apr 3, 2020 at 3:30

2 Answers 2


You've asked several questions. So I'm focusing on this:

Will this kind of personality be protagonist-like?

You are starting this character with several strikes against him.

1. He lied to his partner

The reader might come back from this, but his partner should never trust him again.

2. He lied about his intent.

This one is a real problem. It means he knew it was wrong. This actually shows criminal intent to mislead someone who could report him.

3. He has no regard for innocent lives.

Saving lives is the job. The hostages are the priority. The 'goal' would be that nothing happens and it is all diffused through non-violence. This man is a sociopath, and would be removed from his job.

4. His plan got innocent people killed.

It was a bad plan. Even in the most contrived trolly problem scenario, acting to get hostages killed sooner is a bad plan.

How does the character grow from this?

Sorry, I don't see a believable redemption arc for this character. If he's morally right, why does he need to lie? If he's your protagonist, he's aimed the wrong direction. I'd expect a negative arc where he only gets worse.

It's compounded because you showed us an equally-ranked colleague who disagrees with his plan, so clearly it was not the only option.

He was right all along, but the world can't handle the truth and his partner is a wuss.

With an extremely contrived trolly problem, and heaps of remorse (compassion for the families of his victims), you could bring this character back to "protagonist-like" by showing he was correct all along – he picked the better option in a no-win situation.

But he'd need official exoneration (an inquest that proves x number of lives were saved by killing y number of hostages), and the partner would need to admit he was wrong and just couldn't accept it at the time (justifying the lie that removed him from the hostage crisis).

Who gets sacrificed for the 'greater good'?

Your title asks "is it appreciated to make sacrifices for the greater good?", but getting innocent people killed is not making sacrifices. The hostages do not have a choice. He does.

Getting himself killed to save others is a sacrifice. Losing a loved-one held hostage by the terrorists in order to save others is a sacrifice. This is why we see stories where a moral protagonist offers to become the hostage in exchange for letting others go – heroes sacrifice their own safety to get others out of danger.

Your guy gets innocent people killed just so he can break early for lunch, and deliberately prevents another trained responder from saving even a single civilian. This isn't anti-hero territory. His 'morality' isn't even grey. This is sadistic psychopath territory where he doesn't care who dies, and sabotages good people who might get in his way.

  • What brought you to the idea that this character needs a redemption?
    – Weckar E.
    Commented Apr 3, 2020 at 9:08
  • 1
    wow thank you very much. I'm also thinking of a follow up redemption arc, but the world setting is cruel so I think He was right all along works better. Thank you!
    – user43717
    Commented Apr 3, 2020 at 12:56

@Wetcircuit already phrased some of this very well, so I would just like to add another observation.

You make it sound like this is a wartime situation with soldiers. If so, what is the chain of command in the situation? Armies almost always have a chain of command for exactly this reason, so it is always clear who is in charge and has authority to make decisions in any given situation. From what you have given us, it sounds like the other MC is ranked higher than this character if they have to lie to the other main character and give the order to fire behind his back. By contrast, if the ruthless character were the one in charge, they could just say to the character who doesn't want casualties "I'm in charge, I'm doing it, deal with it".

If this is the case, that means the ruthless main character disobeyed a superior officer which is several more strikes against him in addition to the ones listed by @Wetcircuit. To put it another way, it goes back to the "to be Lawful or Good" dichotomy. People are more willing to accept characters who do bad things if it is seen as following the rules than someone who breaks the rules to do bad things. This is why you see soldiers rationalizing their actions as "just following orders". It doesn't excuse anyone's actions, but it isn't seen as much of a strike against their character. People are more willing to look the other way when people break the rules to do good things, because it shows the character cares and implies the rules were impeding a good outcome. If the roles were reversed and the caring MC went against the orders of the ruthless MC, the caring one would still be considered likable even if it ended poorly.

In this case, it's not just that the character did the ruthless, uncaring thing and got a bunch of innocent people killed, it's that he also potentially broke the rules to do so. If he really did break chain of command, especially if it got people killed, "realistically" he could be looking at at least a court-martial (or depending on how cruel your setting is an execution), even if it got results.

The biggest problem is probably this...

he orders to kill the enemies even if hitting the hostages

Usually in situations where an enemy has taken civilians hostage, even in cases where it's necessary to attack despite potential civilian losses, "realistically" the attacking force at least tries to avoid casualties, even if it's not possible to avoid killing any hostages. The wording of the order also makes it seem like killing the enemy is more important than the hostages' safety to the character. While people like that exist, as have cases through history where armies just haven't cared about what happens to hostages, none of them are considered very sympathetic or make good protagonist candidates.

If you want to make them sympathetic, at the very least show they are conflicted over the whole thing. The response of an average person, even a soldier, to a given situation is not to jump straight to killing.

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