Friday, May 8, 2009

Door A or Door B?

One of the most powerful plot devices we can use is a story is the moral dilemma. Suppose that you are standing in front of your mother with a gun in your hand. She had contracted a disease that will soon reach a point that it will spread to the rest of the world, killing millions, but if she dies before it begins to spread, the disease will die and no one else will die. Do you pull the trigger or not? Suppose you sit at your computer with your finger poised over the enter key. You have in your possession a computer program can actively seek out the primary spam senders and terminate their connection to the Internet. With one tap of your finger, you can eliminate all spam from user’s inboxes, but in doing so you would remove the protection on large amounts of data that companies and individuals intend to keep protected. Do you press enter or delete?

The moral dilemma typically consists of a wrong action that produces a right result as compared to a right action that produces a wrong result. Key to the moral dilemma is that there isn’t an easy answer. The characters facing this situation don’t know the right answer. For that matter, we don’t either. The moral dilemma is about a character standing at a fork in the road and not wanting to take either.

We put a moral dilemma in a story to encourage a reader to question what he would do in the same situation. We may want to leave the moral dilemma unresolved, either because we want the reader to consider the situation or because we don’t know the right answer.

Christian fiction has some aspects that give us some predefined answers to some of the moral dilemmas we may encounter. The Bible gives us principles that can guide our lives concerning a great many things. You will recall how Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah stood with many other people looking at a giant statue, ninety feet tall and made of gold along with a multitude of other people who had been called to assemble. At the sound of many kinds of music, they were to fall down and bow to the statue. They must have stood out like sore thumbs when the rest of the people were lying on the ground and these three were standing up looking around. They were given another chance to either bow to the statue or be thrown into a hot furnace. Their answer, our God will deliver us, but if not, we serve him anyway. Many martyrs have probably thought about this passage as they faced their deaths at the hands of their persecutors. When faced with a choice between denouncing their faith and death, they already knew they would choose death. In a similar fashion, Christian fiction is written in a atmosphere where we already know how God would want someone in a given situation to respond. Will our character act that way? Maybe or maybe not, but we already have resolution for the moral dilemma. Still, we can throw one in to make things interesting.