Home Forums Fiction Writing General Writing Discussions A Prison Problem…

This topic contains 13 replies, has 11 voices, and was last updated by  Emily 3 months, 3 weeks ago.

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    • Rank: Eccentric Mentor
    • Total Posts: 1652

    Hello everyone!

    So here’s the deal: some of you may know that I’m working on a novel called Prison–the concept of which is rather long and complicated and isn’t entirely relevant to this thread. Some of you may also know that this particular WIP has been put on the backburner for a bit, at least until my college classes release me long enough to let me do anything substantial with it. That being said, as I was looking over my notes about Prison last night, I noticed something odd about my theme. I know what it is. I know what the world would say about it. But what I don’t know is…what do I believe about it?

    I blame the problem on my villain, the Warden of the prison. See, I call him my villain, but he’s really not. He’s a good dude, okay? His whole job is to keep peace in the prison, keep everything nice and perfect, but there’s one little issue. Part of his job is to find the potentially bad prisoners and send them away–kick them out of the prison and put them somewhere else, somewhere there’s little chance of survival. So he’s a peacekeeper. He just keeps the peace by picking and choosing who gets to stay within the prison walls. And sometimes… *spoiler* he doesn’t make the right choice.

    The way I see it now, I’m left with two choices. Do I write the Warden as a villain, someone who’s motives are all dark and terrible and wrong? Or do I write the Warden as a misunderstood hero, someone who’s “just doing his job”, and gets a bad rap for his actions regardless?

    And the trouble is, this effects not just the Warden’s character arc, but the arcs of my two protagonists, Tam and Kara, as well. My theme for this WIP is Mercy vs. Revenge, and the arcs of both Tam and Kara revolve around how they view this theme. Tam wants revenge–by killing on the Warden, no less–because a lot of bad stuff has gone down in her life and she blames the Warden for it. Kara just wants peace, for everyone, and doesn’t think killing or fighting is going to achieve that.

    I suppose…my question is…how do you show mercy to someone who has knowingly sent people to their deaths, but how do you kill someone who was thinking of the “greater good” for those under his watch?

    Tagging a few people who I know will help me out here: @aratrea @daeus @kate-flournoy @graciegirl @dragon-snapper @winter-rose @shannon @seekjustice @anyone-else-who-wants-to-reply And if you aren’t tagged, reply anyway. Seriously. I’m willing to hear whatever y’all think.

    • This topic was modified 3 months, 3 weeks ago by  Elizabeth.



    • Rank: Chosen One
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    @that_writer_girl_99 I will humbly acknowledge that Kate probably has a much better answer than me, but I don’t see your dilemma as a huge problem unless you want the warden to be a pure character. You can just depict him as a character in a very complex situation who doesn’t like what he’s doing, but doesn’t know what other choices he has.



    • Rank: Eccentric Mentor
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    In regards to the Warden’s specific character, I think I agree with you. I guess my problem is with the theme…the way I want the characters to act regarding the Warden heavily relies on what they believe about choosing mercy over revenge, or the reverse–revenge over mercy. I’m not sure how to convey that with regards to the Warden’s character, and whether my characters choose to kill him or not… @daeus

    Maybe I’m reading into this too much. Is my theme supposed to show exactly what I believe about the subject?

    • This reply was modified 3 months, 3 weeks ago by  Elizabeth.



    Josiah DeGraaf
    • Rank: Knight in Shining Armor
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    Great question. My answer would be not to let yourself or the readers pin the Warden into a clearly evil camp or a clearly misunderstood camp. Most people have complicated motives, so weave that into the Warden as well. Personally, I think that has the potential to really deepen your story’s them as the reader is forced to wrestle with the morality of the Warden and the proper consequences for his actions right along with your characters. I’m not 100% sure what that means they /should/ do with him, but if your focusing question isn’t easily answered, that’s how you know you’ve stumbled on a good theme/focusing question/message combo.

    Writing fantasy stories w/superheroes. ยท josiahdegraaf.com

    • Rank: Eccentric Mentor
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    Alright @aratrea thanks for replying! I’ll see what I can do…



    Josiah DeGraaf
    • Rank: Knight in Shining Armor
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    @that_writer_girl_99 Didn’t see your previous reply to the subject. On that front, I think it’s helpful to distinguish between a theme and a message. A theme is just a topic like mercy or justice. A message says what you should do with regards to that specific topic (e.g. you should always how people mercy, or you should be wise on who you show mercy to). Themes are inherently neutral, so you want to use your message to show what you believe concerning the topic.

    Writing fantasy stories w/superheroes. ยท josiahdegraaf.com

    • Rank: Eccentric Mentor
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    @that_writer_girl_99 A Prison Problem XD.

    So, you’re sort of asking if you should make the Warden an antagonist or a full out villain, right?

    I think, if you are trying to show your readers that mercy should be chosen over revenge, making the Warden more villainous would make it harder for your protagonists to forgive him, which I think could strengthen your message. If the Warden is merely misunderstood, your protagonists might be able to empathize with him a little more, making forgiveness easier. It’s easier to forgive someone you understand and relate to than someone you believe is pure evil.

    Course that might not be your message, I’m just assuming here. ๐Ÿ™‚


    Kate Flournoy
    • Rank: Chosen One
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    @daeus eeeeeh… no pressure. ๐Ÿ˜›

    @that_writer_girl_99 good question though. I think… it seems to me that you’re asking not just about the Warden, but about the moral balance of justice and mercy. How do you show the necessity of justice (bad actions have painful consequences) while balancing it with understanding and forgiveness (we’re all fallen humans and make mistakes, and the only escape we have from just condemnation is mercy)?
    I feel like you’re asking ‘How can I promote both?’
    If that’s the case… maybe what you need to realize is that forgiveness doesn’t necessarily cancel justice.
    Justice is a nice thematic concept to work with because it’s concrete and you always know what it looks like. Forgiveness is trickier, because it’s a heart issue.

    Justice is the concrete price the character pays for their wrong actions (however nobly meant). Wrong actions always have consequences. The Warden has done wrong, therefore justice is necessary.
    But forgiveness has to do with the heart of the one who deals justice. Why they do it. To deal justice in revenge may look like righteousness on the outside, but it’s really vengeance because of the wrong heart of the person who did it. In the same way, to deal justice rigidly may seem like unmerciful, unfeeling cruelty on the outside, but if the person who deals it does it without bitterness, only for righteousness’ sake, there is no fault. Man looks on appearances, but God weighs the heart.
    The Warden can be forgiven and still die. Forgiveness does not necessarily equal mercy. Mercy is the antidote to justice and more concrete than forgiveness, but if you’re trying to strike a balance and your theme is forgiveness, just roll with forgiveness.

    What the others said in regards to the complexity of the Warden is rock solid. Roll with that. But realize that the heart of what you promote has to do with the heart of your MC— how it changes, and how it acts beneath those changes, and what the consequences are.

    … and that’s kinda long and rambling and I have other thoughts, but does that answer your question? Or do I need to take a different tack?

    • Rank: Knight in Shining Armor
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    @that_writer_girl_99 The Warden reminds me of Javert from Les Miserables. Javert is just doing his duty and he isn’t really a bad person. He just refuses to see that people can change and always chooses Justice over Mercy. he can’t accept or give mercy to anyone.
    In the end, Valjean has the chance to take revenge on Javert and doesn’t, choosing to forgive him and show him mercy instead. That leads Javert to question his entire life and eventually kill himself.
    Like @kate-flournoy already said, forgiveness doesn’t erase the necessity of justice. God forgave our sins, but someone still needed to pay the price for us. God offers us mercy, but he does not force it down our throats, he offers it and we choose what to do with it. Do we accept it and allow Jesus to take our sins to the cross? Do we turn it away and ultimately be given justice for our actions?
    Anyway, what I`m trying to say is: the Warden may only be “doing his duty”, but he still may need to face justice. That does not mean, however, that he cannot be shown mercy. After all, God is both a God of justice and mercy and he commands us in Micah 8 to “do (or seek) justice and to love mercy…”
    I’m not sure if this makes any sense really, I just wrote it out as I thought of it, but hopefully it will make sense.
    Also, as a sidenote, I see that you tagged me in this, but I never received a message (not even in the spam box) I only happened to stumble across this when seeing what was new. I wonder why?

    INFP with an army of origami cranes and a sabre from Babylon.


    Emma Flournoy
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    @that_writer_girl_99 They gave you good answers. O.O


    Dragon Snapper
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    @that_writer_girl_99 Wow…I’m sure what everyone else has said is good meats. Listen to them. Though I am curious as to what you will do in the end. Let me know, por favor.

    *melts chair*


    • Rank: Knight in Shining Armor
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    @that_writer_girl_99, I agree with what Josiah, that you should not place your warden on the bad or good side. Hope you get it figured out alright!

    Dreamer, singer, and avid reader. Lover of all things sparkly.


    Josiah DeBoer
    • Rank: Wise Jester
    • Total Posts: 96

    I’d definitely make him complicated. Real people are well-rounded. If you did a research paper on Hitler, you would be able to find a few redeeming qualities. Do the same with the warden. Give him bad qualities that hurt the prisoners but also give him good qualities that help them.

    For example, make him merciful to his prisoners but short-tempered. If someone gets on his bad side, their life will be made super horrible, but if they seem repentant for whatever sent them in, he feels sorry for them and tries to help set them on a path to a better life. Maybe have one of your characters on his good side and the other on his bad side, etc.

    That’s just an idea, but it’s kind of what I would do and my thought process.



    • Rank: Eccentric Mentor
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    @that_writer_girl_99 Oooh! Sounds like a cool story! In my opinion, I think that bad guys are awesome. For some reason, I like villains. Muahahahaha!!! But in this case, I might say that it would be best to make him neither bad or good. You see, villains are alright, but you don’t want to have a villain overload. Hope this helps!

    Title: The Perfect Grammatacallion

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