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How to Redeem a Horrible Villain in Fiction Writing
Since the beginning of time storytelling has often revolved around the idea of the battle between good and evil. War novels pit one army against another and usually there is one army considered to be just and another the not so much. In scenario people would usually identify the aggressors as the party in the wrong while the defender (and sometimes the underdog) as who is in the right. This same instance also applies to characterization in a story, there has to be a hero and a villain, a protagonist and an antagonist. But in writing a story sometimes you want to show a process by which a character changes. This may be because readers enjoy the idea of redemption, it gives them hope for mankind. But when you write your character into a story to be the bad guy how do you transition him into becoming a good guy and make it believable? This article tackles that very problem.
Designing Your Villain
When you create your villain keep in mind the farther you push him into the realm of evil the more difficult it will be to bring him back to be seen as a good guy. Many things may make the transformation from bad back to good unbelievable for example making a serial rapist in a story become caretaker of a women's shelter to turn his life around. This can leave a bad taste in readers mouths questioning whether he has truly changed considering his path or if he is just trying to get closer to more victims. The more horrible your villain the less likely in reality he would turn over a new leaf, so write for what is realistic. Having him be a graphic killer, rapist, pedophile, etc would be traits to steer clear of.
The actual change in the character would have to be something that when tested even he could do the right thing. It can happen as a pivotal turning point or gradually throughout the story.
Many characters in literature have become very popular walking the line between good and evil such as Lex Luther, Wolverine (in the comics), etc. They possess traits such as killing their enemies and a truly tortured dark side. This often adds depth to their characters and balances what the reader thinks of the character, they have pity for what happened to the character and are more willing to accept his indiscretions.
There has also been a trend in recent years of novels, television and film portraying what is known as the anti-hero. As shown in series like Dexter originally from novels and developed for television. In the series the main character is a serial killer often killing a victim in each episode and sometimes mutilating them. The one saving grace that keeps viewer cheering him on is the fact that he kills murderers and thus is fighting against evil, all the while battling the evil within. Another such series is Breaking Bad in which a brilliant scientist who has been reduced to a high school science teacher. In the series the main character after being diagnosed with terminal cancer turns to selling crystal meth and a life of crime. Again he has a saving grace as he is selling meth to leave his family enough money to live on before he dies. People can sympathize with his motives and are able to overlook the bad things he is doing.