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Old October 15 2011, 08:16 AM   #1
Joe Washington
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Location: Providence, Rhode Island, United States
How to write a villain redemptive arc?

What is the best way to write a realistic villain redemptive arc?
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Old October 15 2011, 12:58 PM   #2
Ln X
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Re: How to write a villain redemptive arc?

Well firstly you would need to explain how the villain became a villain in the first place. Also what are his/her motives for doing such evil and bad things? The redemption part is a lot harder, and there can all be sorts of reasons/causes for redemption (or more precisely the character renouncing his/her evil ways). But for a villain redemptive arc you would need one massive story, or lots of stories to really flesh out the villain...

This may seem like a no brainer, but the more planning you do for a character (or villain) then you have a greater idea of where you want to take him/her. Your question is very tricky to answer, and I'd say there is no obvious way of answering it...
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Old October 15 2011, 09:45 PM   #3
Nerys Ghemor
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Re: How to write a villain redemptive arc?

Joe Washington wrote: View Post
What is the best way to write a realistic villain redemptive arc?
Assuming you are not writing a satire, or comedic piece, here is the main piece of advice I would have:

Do not hit the "reset" button on people's emotions.

Your villain him/herself will likely have to cope with significant psychological fallout from whatever has occurred--be it possession, bad decisions, addictions, or anything else that may be involved. Your story will feel more realistic if you deal with the consequences rather than handwaving them or shying away from them.

Even if a sudden conversion is involved--and I often point to Saul/Paul of Tarsus in the Bible as a key example of this--you should expect to see some fallout still, both in the individual him/herself, and those around them. If you have ever read the book of Acts, even though it's covered very briefly in a few sentences, notice that initially the repentant Saul was greeted with suspicion by the people he had once persecuted...and this even after Ananias' vision telling him that Saul was now safe.

The traumas that the villain has experienced, and that he or she has caused, do not simply vanish overnight. Conflicted feelings are to be expected in such a situation. How that person, and those around them, deal with those feelings as well as with any lingering issues your former villain may still have (be they material issues or inner, psychological ones such as bad habits, behavior patterns, or addictions) is likely to be a driving force in your plot.

The road to redemption is not an easy one. Proper motivation is required, crimes cannot be erased and justice may still need to be served, and even if physically repaired, the emotional damage is not as easily so. So make sure to pay attention to all of the consequences--not just the fact that your repentant villain has laid down his or her arms, but the unpleasant things that will have to be faced as well.

I definitely don't want to tell you how you should do it. Believable conversions can come as slow disillusionment or as sudden moments where the villain realizes his life has blown apart at the seams and he must make a choice. And the degree of suspicion and hostility can vary. But don't ignore the consequences. Don't ignore the fact that the damage still exists--that the crimes were still done, and that people will still have their feelings about that. How or if you choose to repair those consequences is up to you (and there are plot benefits either way), but the last thing you want to do is pretend they're not there.
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Old October 16 2011, 12:47 AM   #4
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Re: How to write a villain redemptive arc?

Don't end it with "NOoooooooo!" and throwing the emperor over a railing.
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Old October 16 2011, 07:46 PM   #5
Rush Limborg
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Re: How to write a villain redemptive arc?

I'd like to build on what Ln X said.

Show the villain's backstory--how he/she came to choose the path he/she would travel--the path to villainy.

The key, with this, is to make his/her intentions somehow understandable--sympathetic, in a way. Take Khan's backstory in Greg Cox's excellent Eugenics Wars novels. He saw the disorder around him--the poverty, the hardship--and he resolves to offer the world order, so that no one would suffer those hardships again.

I myself posted in this forum a backstory for Luther Sloan: Passing Of Value.

Now, when you go to the villain's "present", and when you decide to set him/her on the path to redemption--I would recommend you make sure it connects in some way to that backstory. Have him/her reflect on those events, and the decisions he/she made...and reconsider them, as present events make him/her see them in a whole new light.
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Old October 16 2011, 07:57 PM   #6
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Re: How to write a villain redemptive arc?

The thing with redemption is that it's entirely up to the viewer/reader to decide whether the villain character deserves it or not. So don't become too preachy.
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Old October 17 2011, 04:59 AM   #7
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Re: How to write a villain redemptive arc?

When done well, redemptive arcs can be an especially entertaining and very moving.

I agree with not making the characterís eventual transformation too preachy, as thatís often a turn off for the reader. For a truly misguided or genuinely evil person to change overnight rather strains credulity. Some fundamentally personality shifting events should have to take place over a believable amount of time in order for change of that magnitude to happen, and to become permanent.

Iíve attempted a redemptive arc with one of my primary characters, Pava Laríragos, a 400-year old El-Aurian who led a very difficult and colorful life prior to finding his way across the galaxy to Federation space and eventual service in Starfleet.

Even in his years of Starfleet service, Laríragos has occasionally backslid, allowing himself off the leash when situations became so desperate as to warrant that. He still slips up, still lets his darker nature out to play on occasion, but overall heís still trying to atone for the sins of his past.

I've catalogued some of his more memorable adventures (and misadventures) in a story titled The Long Road.
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Old October 17 2011, 03:51 PM   #8
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Re: How to write a villain redemptive arc?

I've tried my hand at a redemptive story arc myself.

One of my concerns when I started out was how far I could push the character and still give her a shot at redemption. I don't think every villain can be redeemed and of course personality plays a role. I would think it be tricky to try and redeem an unapologetic mass murderer, for example.

While I don't think just one simple act could redeem a character who has done evil in the past, I did incorporate a definitive turning point for my character where she had to decide to go through with killing in cold blood or to abandon her plans. Her decision was an important step in her journey to redemption.

As hinted to above it helps to make the character sympathetic and have him or her facing adversity which may or may not be outside the character's control. Somebody who tries and fails is more likely to be looked at sympathetically then somebody who gets it right straight away or who doesn't try at all.

It's also probably more realistic to have a redemption arc spread out over many stories than trying to wrap it up in a single story.

I also think that redeeming a character doesn't mean he or she becomes an angel. The character could still maintain plenty of bad habits or a dark side but would probably show genuine remorse over his past actions.
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Old October 18 2011, 10:37 PM   #9
Joe Washington
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Re: How to write a villain redemptive arc?

How would you want the villain's redemptive arc to end? With death? Jail time? Or simply moving on with his or her life? Does it depend on the villain's crimes?
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Old October 20 2011, 02:43 AM   #10
Re: How to write a villain redemptive arc?

Yeah, I'd like to know whether or not this villain had a halfway decent reason for their offences? Did he procure Comfort Women from P.O.W. Camps?
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