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Is Redemption a Possibility?

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Anonymous asked: “Dear Lizard, I have a character that’s secretly a Villain™.  So, I want to know if it is possible to give him a redemption arc. Part of me feels like he’s super horrible and responsible for mass murders, but part of me wants him back and happy with his friends…”

So we’re talking about villains, I’m calling in reinforcements – my best friend, Ellie is going to assist in this one. 

Ellie helped me a little while back with the post, “Why is Your Villain a Villain?” so today, she’s going to pose some questions to help you think out redeeming your villain.

Ellie writes, “Is redemption possible? I feel like it depends on original motive. Was the original motive pure or was it pure evil? If the villain had good intentions and didn’t intend to create the harm that came about from their actions, it’s quite a bit different than if they did.  Also it depends on what you think redemption means – there are different degrees of forgiveness and redemption. If your villain has betrayed the people around him in ways that are tough to swallow, these characters might not be so quick to forgive him and nor should they. If the other characters are quick to forgive, it’s going to matter then what forgiveness means. They might not be quick to forget. Forgiveness could be as small as a willingness to eventually work at repairing their relationship once wounds have begun to heal. The former villain is likely going to have to actively work to make things better for a long time before all is forgotten. 

Then there’s also the question, is redemption going to be doing that one good deed right before dying tragically? Is it trying to save as many possible lives before eventual death? Is redemption forgiveness in his friends’ eyes? Or is it forgiveness from a higher power? It really depends. 

Also if the character is feeling guilty will he truly be happy with his friends in the end? Being around them, even if they have forgiven him could be a constant reminder of the harm and trouble he inflicted. It can be damaging to him and not just to the friends he hurt. I have characters that are complete assholes but capable of change because that’s how I set them up. Is your villain able to change? Because if they are committing mass murder for the fun of it and they don’t have any guilt about it do you think that is redeemable?”

Some good points from Ellie. Not too long ago, I wrote a post, “Redeeming Your Villains.” This might also be a good resource. Just adding onto it from there, I do believe that not every villain can be redeemed. There are actions that can’t be undone and while I’m pretty forgiving, very much a forgive-and-forget personality, there are lines that can be crossed. What are the lines for your characters? Murder and anything that drastic can be hard to look past. When it is something so severe, they can’t all just go back to being friends like nothing’s happened. 

This is why I think I love the ending of The Secret History. There’s murder (I won’t give too much away) and I don’t know that I’d say there’s redemption exactly, but there is life after the story. It’s a complicated life. It’s not particularly happy, but it’s the fallout from the plot and from the kind of relationships the characters cultivated over the previous few hundred pages. Nothing can be sunshine and rainbows, but there’s resolution. 

Resolution in my opinion trumps redemption. Sometimes you’re not going to get a neat little ending that you can wrap up with a bow and say they all lived happily ever after. Sometimes the conflict is resolved and it’s still a mess but in that mess, there’s grounds for things to begin to heal. The villain might need to leave and go work on himself for awhile. He might not be able to be close with his former friends because of his actions, but it might be good enough for him to be trying to make amends from a distance. 

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