I previously wrote about the villain redemption story and why it is such a great story to write about. But just like with every type of story, it can only work if it is done correctly. There are villain redemption stories which work and ones which don’t work. When is it right for a villain to be redeemed and when should they be left as they are? I’ve listed some examples of both to help identify when the right time to redeem a villain is:
- The Comic Villain
Cartoonishly comic villains such as Discord, Gideon Gleeful, or Dr. Doofenshmirtz were all funny villain characters but they could also be genuine threats, and sometimes even outright terrifying. This type of villain can be redeemed since they are rarely the standard big bads so it is easier for readers to relate to and even sympathise with them. Funny villains are often much more incompetent compared to their darker counterparts so we can buy that they can be converted to the good side.
- Story Potential
As I mentioned, there are countless numbers of stories you can have with a redeemed villain. It is often an ongoing process that can stretch over several books and provide your readers with many moral questions to mull over.
- The Morality Pet
Ideally someone needs to show the villain the error of their ways and inspire them on the path to goodness. The morality pet trope is ideal for this, by providing the villain with a change in perspective, giving them something they can care for, and showing the readers their good side in how they protect and care for that person.
When not to redeem villains:
- For the Sake of Drama
While the villain redemption story can increase drama, using it purely for the sake of increased drama rarely works well. There needs to be a reason for the drama to exist otherwise it will seem forced and unconvincing. Don’t shove in a redemption arc into your story just for the sake of it either. If you look at your story and find that a redemption arc doesn’t fit into it anywhere, then don’t feel as if you need to include one.
- The Moral Guardian Ending
I call it this because a villain redeemed at the very end of the story with no build up feels like an ending suggested by a focus group or a concerned parent’s union and not by the author. If you have your villain change at the very end just for the sake of everyone feeling happy and getting along, the concerned parents may be happy but your readers won’t be. It is much better to redeem a villain with an ongoing story arc, and even with good characters struggling with viewing them as good, instead of at the last minute.
- Mind Wipe
A common way that writers try to force in the Moral Guardian Ending is not by having the villain decide to change but for the heroes to turn them good by use of magic. This is problematic for two reasons. First of all, it is assuming that good and evil are easily identifiable, when as I discussed earlier they are in fact subjective and sometimes even ambiguous. Secondly, it doesn’t look too good when the hero essentially mind rapes the villain into thinking exactly as they do. If the villain did something like that then everybody would be saying how terrible it is.
- Irredeemable Villains
While many villains can be redeemed, there are others who can’t be redeemed and shouldn’t. These are characters who you want to see punished. In Disney’s adaptation of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Frollo spends the story as a murderous bigot so it is intensely satisfying when he is flung down to hell at the end. If a villain has no reason to be forgiven for something truly evil then they shouldn’t be, by either the characters or the author. Otherwise readers will be wondering why other characters are showing sympathy for a villain who doesn’t deserve it or why they should feel any sympathy themselves.
Next time I’ll be taking these last two posts together and detail fully how to write the villain redemption story.