When Good Characters Go Bad

Hey hey, Flobo here!

Today I want to talk to you about your characters. There are your protagonists (heroes) and there are your antagonists (villains). Most times these characters are on parallel trajectories, that is until they cross paths and all. But what about that character who was at once pegged a villain but saw the error of their ways? Or, perhaps even more interesting, what about those characters who slid into a darkness that they never recovered from?

There’s something magnetic about the fall of a good man/woman/character. In fact, most classical “tragedies” follow this formula. Imagine having someone who was at one time at peace with themselves slip into a situation that drags them down like quicksand. The stuff is legendary.

I’m going to catch flak for this, but I was never that big into Shakespeare. Don’t worry, I’ll make sure to never become an English teacher in order to spread that sort of blasphemy around. There was no denying his talent, but I appreciated Shakespeare’s work like how you would appreciate an oil painting in a museum. It was a joy to behold, but it was something that never really hit home for me. When I was tenth grade, the English class I was in tackled “Othello” and things began to change a bit. There was still loads of things that sailed over this brute’s head, but the downward spiral the character Othello went through, spawn from the initial thought of his wife’s infidelity, was something that still resonates with me.

What about in the Green Lantern arc “Emerald Twilight” where Hal Jordan (eventually retconned to be) possessed by the fear entity Parallax, goes on a killing spree, killing hundreds of other Corpsmen while in a blind rage? A desperate attempted to resurrect his home city (which had been leveled by Mongul and Cyborg Superman) was the tipping point for his path to darkness from hero to villain.

Or what about the music video for Cee-Lo Green’s “Forget You” where I nice guy was spurned by a lady he desired only for his character (in the video) to turn into a womanizing “Lady Killer”?

The video can relate to relationships in general. Friends of mine, male and female, have turned into “ladykillers/maneaters” based on being burned by the ones they loved.

Most of the time, the hero’s slip into the dark side could have been prevented. “If only Character B told our hero the truth”. Or, “If only Character C didn’t jump to conclusions and blamed the hero unjustly”. That’s the crux of the whole transformation:

Our hero gets hurt, and vows to never to get hurt again

As a writer, your character’s back story is one of the most important aspects of your work. Every character has flaws, and are all in some ways “damaged goods”. This, as crazy as it seems, makes him/her more “relatable” to your readers as I’m sure you already know this. While in the story of “Othello”, the character’s descent was the plot, I urge you for your own works to craft “smaller descents” for your characters. Maybe falling from the social totem pole in high school before the events of a story can explain why your hero isn’t trusting of people as an adult for example. I’m sure this would make your character more dynamic.

And dynamic stories sell. Or so I’ve heard.

–Flobo

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