I have a character that is the stereotypical "token good member of an evil organization". The organization is a brutal social darwinist one that sees nothing wrong with killing people and taking what they want from people. This is their attitude to both to people outside the group and leads to brutal, constant power struggles within the group.

I am trying to figure out how a stereotypical "one good one" character would see/refer to themselves and their place in the world. This would seemingly affect both characterization and their word choice. For example, in other works of fiction the "one good one" often openly refers to their group as evil. This is not how people naturally talk or see themselves. Usually it would seem like you would get a character some kind of self-justification like a conqueror believing they are "bringing civilization" to conquered people, shift blame by saying it was necessary, or actively avoiding bringing to avoid focusing too hard on unpleasant topics to avoid looking at contradictory facts in their worldview. A person probably wouldn't declare their home culture to be evil unless it was as a cassus belli to rebel.

The problem is the character hasn't really swallowed the Kool Aid and thus ism't likely to give the "white man's burden" or "necessary evil" argument. They subconsciously know there is something wrong and their values don't align with their culture's, but they haven't been exposed to alternative viewpoints to realize how messed up their situation is (think cults). They're mostly staying out of Stockhold syndrome at this point. They haven't gotten the push needed to tell them they need to leave.

I think this is mostly a conflict between societally accepted values and individual values. The character has been told that killing is okay and you shouldn't feel bad for harming others. Yet that doesn't agree with their own personal morality. Nevertheless, they aren't going to say these things openly, because that goes against societal norms, and will tailor their dialogue (and to some degree, thoughts) to be socially appropriate.

Given this, how would the "one good one" see/self-justify themselves and their place in the world?

2 Answers 2


The easiest way is to make them feel they have no other viable options, they continue out of desperation.

Suppose they have a child that is entirely dependent on them, and requires expensive medication and treatment to stay alive.

Your good guy doesn't want to be a criminal, but in the contest between love for your child and morals, for them love wins. They make money as a criminal, they spend almost none of it on luxury or frivolity, they keep their child in comfort, with expert care, and stack the rest in a trust, with a good lawyer to administer it.

Then they go to work and kill people. Because it is those people, or their kid, and the kid wins.

At some point, they may have an escape plan, or they get caught by law enforcement. They get offered immunity to turn on their criminal employers. But that is not too hard, they hate their criminal employers, and they have a chance to get out, with immunity, and with that stack of money they've been building for ten years. A chance to take care of their kid in some less dangerous profession. That doesn't require killing any more innocent people.

When we study people in poverty, we find many criminals that fully know and believe that what they are doing is wrong, and they wish -- They didn't have to do it. But they feel as if they must to take care of their children, or disabled sibling, or a failing mother. It isn't exactly greed, they don't have the smarts, or looks, or creativity or skills to do anything else, and being an unemployed law-abiding compassionate person doesn't put a roof over their head or food on the table or medicine in the cabinet or keep the A/C and heat and electricity on.

Half of people work jobs they don't like because they have to make ends meet. They aren't living in luxury.

What do you do when there are no legal jobs you can get that will make ends meet? You get an illegal job.

Because love wins over morals, hands down.

How do they see themselves? They are taking care of the person they love. They are keeping that person alive and comfortable. No matter what the cost to themselves or anybody else.


Generally, these characters are a bit more intellectual or philosophical than the common grunts of the organization and has an understanding of the underlying belief system and would know what is right and wrong... and that the organization has been steadily losing it's way.

One example I love is the character of Dinobot in "Transformers: Beast Wars" who is a Predacon turned Maximal (happens in the two part pilot). In the show's lore, Predacons operate under a moral code akin to Bushido or Chivalry. Most, like the leader Megatron, only pay lip service to the code... but Dinobot is the rare person who follows his code and does not engage in combat with enemies that are disadvantaged. In the first episode, Dinobot shows Megatron evidence that the planet they crashed on is not Earth (it has two moons... big clue) and challenges Megatron to a dual for leadership of the stranded crew. Megatron not only refuses the dual, but has Scorpinok, Dinobot's underling, launch a surprise attack on Dinobot and leaves him for dead. While Predacons do believe that treachery is not a bad thing (underlings are supposed to betray leaders they feel are acting in appropriately... leaders are expected to be wise enough to anticipate and out maneuver these occasion attempts to grab power.), Megatron was not honorable in how he conducted himself.

When Dinobot challenges Optimus Primal for leadership of the Maximals, however, Optimus agrees, despite Maximals not being honorbound like predacons, and bests Dinobot in one on one combat despite having a 4 to one advantage if they decided to just kill Dinobot. When Optimus has Dinobot at his mercy, he doesn't kill Dinobot because that is not the Maximal way. In this, Optimus not only demonstrates to Dinobot that he is a leader who respects the ways of others, but that he follows his own code of ethics. While there is a difference between the two codes, the fact that Optimus Primal has a set of rules he chooses to live by and stands by them and is thus a worthy leader.

Interestingly, Dinobot's foil throughout the series is not a Predacon, but a Maximal ally, Rattrap. Rattrap is a loyal to a fault Maximal, and makes it clear that all his choices are made on the logic that he does not believe the Maximals are capable of being or doing wrong... thus, if he fights dirty, than it is justified because he is fighting dirty for the Maximals' benefit. Ironically, Dinobot and Rattrap both betray the Predacons and the Maximals respectively twice between the series and it's sequal series. However, their motives for betrayal are not the same. Dinobot is awakened to the dishonorable behavior of Megatron in both occasions and his honor demands he shall not benefit from dishonorable behavior. Rattrap, on the other hand, in both instances, betrays the Maximals because in the circumstances, he believes his treachery will benefit the Maximals.

It's important to note that as their interactions progress, it does become apparent that the criticism of each other is largely a mask for their true respect. Although neither would ever say it, they both come to respect the other, and their insults are only insults from their own point of view... that is, Dinobot's insults of Rattrap's dirty fighter habits and fanatical loyalty to the cause are compliments to Rattrap while his criticism of Dinobot's continued pride in his predacon morals and heritage is a compliment to Dinobot. The acknowledge that neither of them are ever going to change and their "hatred" is because they are two stubborn to admit that while they both don't respect the choice, the respect the other's conviction.

In Dinobot's final episode, all of this comes to bear. Having betrayed Megatron for the second time, and finding the trust of his Maximal allies wanning trust, Dinobot is scene contemplating suicide. In doing, so, Dinobot uncovers a plot that would, if successful, complete Megatron's goal of rebalancing the power between the two fractions and benifit Dinobot. However, said plot requires Megatron's eradication of a species that would evolve into modern humans to succeed. As Dinobot sums it up, he can choose to not act, and in doing so loses nothing... or he can act to save the humans and lose everything. As he states, his honor as a warrior commits him to act to save the proto-humans, knowing that he will not survive the battle... but to not act is to deny everything he believes of himself. Only he would know if he choose to act... but that is enough people to know he was not true to who he said he was.

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