Alright, so here we come to our final villain type and one of my personal favorites. The redeemed villain. This is the villain that starts out bad. The villain that in the beginning you hate and want to see go down. But over the course of the story, you slowly warm up to them as you discover their motivations were grayer than you thought.
You can probably name off several redeemed villains off the top of your head. They’re everywhere throughout literature. It’s not hard to see why, either. All throughout this series, my continued mantra has been ‘make your characters human’. This trope capitalizes on that by breaking through an audiences initial first impressions and changing their minds.
Remember Severus Snape? Of course you do. The mean professor who was a red herring for half of the evil doings at Hogwarts? Who likes him?
Well... a lot of people now. Because while Snape’s actions are still incredibly problematic and he really is a pretty terrible person for taking out his anger on children who he had authority over, by the end of book seven, we see the reason behind his actions. We see some of the tremendous good he has done through the tremendous bad. And we soften to him.
A lot of the villains I’ve talked about in this series get their redemption too. Lots of baddies from Once Upon a Time and Avatar the Last Airbender get their redemption (We’ll talk about Zuko in the spotlight). They have an arc that eventually leads them back to the good side. None of them start out evil, so they don’t have to end evil.
The key to pulling off a good redeemed character is to know where they’re going from the get go. That way you can smooth the transition and plan for it. You can add hints even at the beginning that your villain isn’t all bad. You don’t want a redemptive arc to just pop out of nowhere or it feels cheap and disingenuous. The result shouldn’t make the reader think, ‘what?’ It should make the reader think, ‘Of course! How did I not see the signs?!’
What’s so wonderful about this trope is it truly plays off the complexities of human nature. All human beings have a dark side, and some let it take over more than others. But it’s never too late to turn back and do good. It’s a hopeful trope and probably the one I use the most in my writing. These characters, the redeemed villains, are my absolute favorites in any given series. Because they make me so happy when they get back on the right path.
Thanks for reading. See you for the villain spotlight on Friday!