I adapted this blog series from a section of an online workshop I conducted for Writers & Books in March 2020.
Deciding a character’s alignment helps determine how’d they’d act during their adventures. I find it helpful to think about how each alignment would behave in the same circumstances because it highlights the differences between each alignment.
Here’s the scene:
A character is in a market and encounters a thief who has stolen from them in a previous incident. The thief doesn’t see the character yet, so they have time to react. How will they act?
A lawful neutral character would place the thief under citizen’s arrest and bring them to the courthouse. She does not interpret the ideology she follows through either a negative or a positive filter. She doesn’t care that the thief stole from her, just that he stole, which violates the rules. You cannot appeal to the better (or worse) nature of these characters. She shows no mercy because the law will give mercy if it’s warranted.
Defining Lawful Neutral Characters
Like all the neutral pairings, the lawful neutral character acts as an embodiment of the trait accompanying their neutrality. However, “lawful” is a bit of a misnomer because these characters are loyal to the rules of their chosen society or association, which may not connect to the law of the land. A lawful neutral character is unlikely to break the law unless they are so devoted or cloistered, they are unaware of the law.
The military lawful neutral character is a loyal soldier who mindlessly follows the rules with no regard for if they are fair, right or wrong. There are no shades of gray with these folks. In evil empires, they are ideal soldiers because they unquestionably follow orders. In good or neutral countries, they are the unremarkable agents of the government.
Bureaucrats also follow the letter of the law, be it the actual law of the land, or, more often, the law of their companies and organizations. The bureaucratic lawful neutral sub-type prides herself on her paperwork navigation skills.
Last, we have the sticklers. She is the sort who raises her hand at the end of class to remind the teacher he forgot to assign homework. Similar to the bureaucrat, no one likes a stickler, but they’re a necessary cog in the gears of civilization.
Lawful Neutral Character Development
Lawful neutral character development happens through skill-building and intellectual management. She may become a better warrior, a smarter statistician, or a harsher disciplinarian. A bureaucrat will become more bureaucratic. However, a lawful neutral character will never develop morally. This is because she ties her belief system to her society. She can be deceptive, however, acting as a covert agent for her institution, which may be the only reason she breaks a rule or law.
But (you’re probably asking) what if something is illegal but morally correct? There is no such thing to a lawful neutral character. When confronted with morality over legality, she will dismiss it until she no longer can, and then sputter around like a malfunctioning robot until she reasons her way out of the moral conundrum.
If the society or organization she follows becomes more or less virtuous, she will follow suit. So, sometimes, her personal development is contingent on the evolution of the association whose rules and laws she adheres to.
Lawful Neutral Character Examples
Police Inspector Javert in Les Misérables does not care that Jean Valjean only stole bread because he was starving. Javert believes all thieves are evil people who he should punish. When Valjean proves himself an honorable man, Javert cannot handle his own cognitive dissonance.
The Hogwarts caretaker in Harry Potter, Argus Filch, is a stickler, and no one likes him or his tattletale cat. He responds to even the smallest rule infraction with discipline and relishes his firm grip on regulation.
“Bond, James Bond” from the Bond franchise proves that some lawful neutral characters can be fun. He’s a secret agent following directives from the British Secret Service, but he maintains a distinct personality.
Next week I'm Discussing Lawful Evil Characters!