From Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris:
Have you ever fallen in love with a story villain? Or at least found yourself liking them somewhat against your will? Seems a little weird, experiencing all the happy feels for this character, but I think we’ve all been there.
When a villain is well written and well rounded, they can tug at our heartstrings just like the protagonists do. This can be cruel, since the villain is usually destined to fail. I say usually because stories can include a change of heart for the enemy.
Is this what you’d like for your bad guy or girl? Let’s take a peek at the villain’s journey and see what their path to redemption might look like.
Understanding Character Arcs: Positive Arcs
First, we need to have a basic understanding of character arc. In essence, this is the transformation a character goes through from the start of the story to the finish.
In the opening pages, she’s lacking something internally. Often, this comes out of a wounding event from the past — a trauma that was scarring. She was compelled to don emotional shielding to protect herself from the pain of that experience and any possible recurrence.
This emotional shielding comes in the form of bad habits, defense mechanisms, personality flaws, biases, and skewed beliefs. While intended to protect the character, that only creates more problems. They’re so destructive that they create a void in her basic human needs. This void leads her to pursue a story goal (outer motivation) that will fill that need. But her emotional shielding cripples her, keeping her from succeeding and becoming fully realized.
Throughout the course of a positive arc, the character recognizes those internal problems and begins to address and change them. This enables her to grow and deal properly with her past, eventually ensuring that she meets her goal and achieves fulfillment.
Understanding Character Arcs: Negative Arcs
That transformation is the essence of a change arc. It’s the one most protagonists follow. But there’s another, lesser-used arc form that’s common for villains.
In a failed arc, the character is unable to overcome their issues and the demons of the past. She fails to make the necessary positive changes that would enable them to achieve satisfaction and fill their inner void. Characters following this arc end the story either back where they started or worse off than they were to begin with.
Very often, this is where you’ll find the villain in your story. She may be aware of the wounding event from her past, but she’s already tried to deal with it and has failed. Now she’s embracing her dysfunctional behaviors, believing they’ll make her stronger. Or she may never have faced her past and is living in denial, refusing to address it. Either way, she’s destined to continue living an unfulfilled life that lacks closure — unless she’s given the opportunity to try again, and this time, succeed. Then…redemption.
How To Go About Redeeming Your Villain?
So as an author interested in redeeming your villain, you first must know her backstory, which will tell you what she’ll have to overcome to succeed.
- What wounding event from the past profoundly impacted her?
- How did her view of herself or the world change because of it?
- What new behaviors, beliefs, habits, and responses developed as a means of protecting herself from a recurrence of that event and the negative emotions associated with it?
There’s a lot of backstory to explore, but questions like these will get you started.
. . . .
Once you’ve got a clear vision of your villain’s history, you can use one of the following techniques to get her back on the road to healing.
Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris