A big welcome to Steve Bein who is here to telling us about Writing Moral Conflict and celebrating the release of the mass market version of Disciple of the Wind, Fated Blades #3 (published on March 1, 2016 by Roc).
Writing Moral Conflict
On one level, Disciple of the Wind is a book about a cop kicking ass in the name of justice. She fights homegrown terrorists in 21st-century Tokyo with a sword that’s nearly a thousand years old, wrought with supernatural power. That’s level one.
On a deeper level this is a book about moral principles, and especially about what happens when they’re compromised. So let’s say you’re the cop, and let’s say the man who will go down in history as Japan’s Osama bin Laden has just resurfaced. You’re the one who arrested him in the first place, and you know more about him than anyone else. Unfortunately, you’re terrible at office politics and your commanding officer thinks you’re a total pain in the ass. In fact, he dislikes you so much that he relegates you to working penny-ante drug busts instead of the case of the century.
That’s Mariko, my Tokyo cop: good at her job, total pain in the ass. So if you’re Mariko, do you obey orders? That is your duty, and to be a police officer is to be defined by duty. So maybe that’s where you start.
But suppose this terrorist mastermind strikes again. Civilians die. Do you wait for a third attack or do you say to hell with your orders, then start pursuing the best leads you have?
Okay, so I just cheated. I gave you a false dichotomy. You have a third option: you can share your intel with the cops who are actually allowed to work the case. But suppose they can’t do it as well as you can. Suppose your best leads aren’t exactly legal. Then let’s make it worse: suppose your criminal contacts make you an offer. They’ll help take down the terrorist, but only if you join them.
In the course of writing these books I’ve interviewed a lot of cops, and this last line—the one I draw right in front of Mariko—is the one everyone tells me they’re not willing to cross. Doing a little extra digging in your off time is one thing. Deliberating concealing it from the top brass is another. But getting in bed with the enemy? Absolutely not.
That said, readers don’t see it in black and white. Some have written me to ask what’s so hard about it. If criminal X is going to kill ten people and criminal Y is only going to kill one, and if one of them is definitely going to do it no matter how hard you try to stop them, then the utilitarian decision is totally straightforward: you help Y kill X. Minimal body count. Easy-peasy.
Maybe you agree. Or maybe you agree with the cops who say this is a line you just don’t cross. What’s fun for me as a writer is to put a character right on the line, with strong motivations pulling on both sides. I’m hardly the only writer to say this, but you don’t create your characters so much as meet them. To write them well you have to get to know them, and my favorite way of really getting to know them is to figure out what their values are and where those values come to a head.
Moral conflict is far more difficult to resolve than physical conflict, and winning a fight at the cost of your principles doesn’t really feel like a win. It’s making peace with yourself afterward that’s the real victory.
Steve Bein (pronounced “Bine”) is a philosopher, traveler, translator, and award-winning author of science fiction and fantasy. His short fiction has appeared in Asimov’s, Interzone, Writers of the Future, and in international translation. His Fated Blades novels have been met with critical acclaim.
Disciple of the Wind by Steve Bein
Available on March 1, 2016 by Roc
When Tokyo falls victim to a deadly terrorist attack, Detective Sergeant Mariko Oshiro knows who is responsible, even if she doesn’t have proof. She urges her commanding officers to arrest the perpetrator—an insane zealot who was just released from police custody. When her pleas fall on deaf ears, she loses her temper and then her badge, as well as her best chance of fighting back.
Left on her own, and armed with only her cunning and her famed Inazuma blade, Mariko must work outside the system to stop a terrorist mastermind. But going rogue draws the attention of an underground syndicate known as the Wind. For centuries, they have controlled Japanese politics from the shadows, using mystical relics to achieve their nefarious ends—relics like Mariko’s own sword and the iron demon mask whose evil curse is bound to the blade. Now the Wind is set on acquiring Mariko.
Mariko is left with a perilous choice: Join an illicit insurgency to thwart a deadly villain, or remain true to the law. Either way, she cannot escape her sword’s curse. As sure as the blade will bring her to victory, it also promises to destroy her….
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