101 creative writing exercises - moral dilemmas

Creative writing exercises: Moral dilemmas.

Today’s creative writing exercise comes from 101 Creative Writing Exercises, a book I wrote on the craft of writing.

This book takes you on an adventure through creative writing. You’ll explore different forms and genres of writing, including freewriting, journaling, memoir, fiction, storytelling, poetry, and article or blog writing.

101 Creative Writing Exercises imparts proven writing techniques while providing writing practice and creative inspiration.

Today, I’d like to share an exercise from “Chapter 9: Philosophy, Critical Thinking, and Problem Solving.” This exercise is titled “Moral Dilemmas.” Enjoy!

Moral Dilemmas

We each have our own personal philosophies and values. Our values come from our families, religions, and cultures. They shape our morals and the decisions we make.

People are complex. What we believe is right or wrong changes when we find ourselves in real situations. Consider an honorable character who believes that one’s highest loyalty is to his or her family. Then that character learns his brother is a serial killer. Does he turn him in? Testify against him? Stories get interesting when characters’ morals are put to the test.

We all know the knight in shining armor should risk his life to save the damsel in distress. If he doesn’t, then he loses his status as hero and becomes a coward. What if the knight is forced to make a more difficult decision? What if his true love and his beloved sister are both in distress but he only has time to save one of them?

The Exercise

For this exercise, you will put a character’s morals to the test. Below, you’ll find a short list of moral dilemmas. Write a scene in which a character faces one of these moral dilemmas and has to make an agonizing decision.

  • In the novel Sophie’s Choice, a young Polish mother and her two children are taken to a concentration camp. Upon arrival, she is forced to choose one child to live and one to die. If she doesn’t choose, they both die. Write a scene in which your character must choose between the lives of two loved ones.
  • A single woman is close friends with the couple next door and has secret romantic feelings for the husband. She discovers that his wife is having an affair. Normally, this woman minds her own business but now she sees an opportunity to get closer to the man she wants.
  • Some countries have strict laws regarding drug possession. A family has traveled to one such country for vacation. Upon arrival (or departure), one of the teenagers’ bags is sniffed out by a dog. The bag is opened, the drugs are identified, and the guard asks whose bag it is. Both parents are considering claiming ownership. Everyone in the family knows the sentence would be death.
  • Your character gets to travel through time and face this classic moral dilemma: the character finds himself or herself holding a loaded gun, alone in a room, with a two-year-old baby Hitler.
  • A plane crashes into the sea. Most of the passengers escape with inflatable lifeboats but they do not board them correctly. Your character ends up on a lifeboat that holds eight people but there are twelve people on it, and it’s sinking. Your character can either throw four people overboard and eight will survive or they will all die except your character, who will get rescued after the others drown.

During the scene, the character should agonize over the decision and reveal his or her reasons for the choice that he or she makes.

Tips: Search online for “lists of moral dilemmas” to get more scenarios.

Variations: If you don’t want to write a scene, challenge yourself to come up with a few moral dilemmas of your own.

Applications: These moral dilemmas also work as story prompts. They force you to put your characters in situations that are deeply distressing, thus creating conflict and tension.

101 creative writing exercises

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