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Does anyone else wish they could read about more redeemed villains?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Mythopoet, Dec 15, 2015.

  1. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    I just finished reading a manga called Pandora Hearts yesterday and really enjoyed it. One of the things I really liked was that by the end of the story pretty much every single character that had ever been characterized as a villain had also been made human and sympathetic and was at least somewhat redeemed. So whereas in the beginning there were a plethora of "villains", in the end there were no real villains at all.

    For instance, there's a whole family "the Baskerville clan" that are described as villains who seek to destroy the world early in the story. Only later do you find out that the history written about them is false. That in truth they are the guardians of the balance of the world, though sometimes their methods are questionable. You find out that the head of the Baskervilles ordered an entire mansion full of people to be killed in a famous tragic incident. And then you find out that it was because things had been set in motion by another character that would have caused all those people to become horrible soulless killing monsters and that preemptively killing them was the only way to preserve their souls so that they can continue to be a part of the cycle of reincarnation. So the people you thought were trying to destroy, were actually trying to save and protect.

    And every one of the members of the Baskerville clan, even the father of the main character who cast his own son into the "Abyss" in chapter 2, becomes someone you can sympathize with or at least pity and understand.

    There's also a character who is called a hero at first, before the truth comes out that he was behind the whole tragedy of the story for his own personal twisted reasons. And yet even he undergoes a redemption, becoming repentant and accepting the consequences of his actions toward the end.

    At the end of the story, there aren't any villains left. Everyone is actually working together to save the world from things that have been set in motion. They each have their own personal reasons for what they're doing, but they are no longer in conflict with each other.

    This sort of thing I've found is pretty common in anime and manga, but not nearly as common in western fantasy literature. But it's something I've really grown to love and would like to see more of. Anyone else feel the same?
     
  2. Miskatonic

    Miskatonic Auror

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    I have a villain sort of like that in my fantasy story, as far as doing something that brings a kind of redemption but it isn't necessarily a compulsive act done to absolve himself of his past actions. There's a strong irony in his past actions that were at one time considered wholly evil but may have been the best solution because of what is going to happen in the near future.
     
    Last edited: Dec 15, 2015
  3. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    I'm sick of that in story telling in general for a multitude of reasons I won't go into. So, simple answer is: no. It can be done well, but usually, not. But that's just me.

    I love a well written villain. They should stay that way.
     
  4. Miskatonic

    Miskatonic Auror

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    Yeah, the villain that sees the error of his/her ways and then sacrifices themselves at a pivotal moment to atone for their past action is a cliche I'm not all that fond of.
     
  5. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    Well, I would actually be interested in your reasons. I don't think I've seen it done very much in fantasy.

    Well, I'm not talking about characters having a sudden change of heart. I'm talking about characters going through an actual redemptive arc or their characterization developing over the course of the story to reveal how they are not actually as villainous as they seemed.
     
  6. trentonian7

    trentonian7 Troubadour

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    Game of Thrones and the following books do an excellent job of presenting truly "grey" characters. There are villains, there are horrible characters, but George Martin is very skilled at putting us into the minds of his creations. Jaime Lannister, for example. In the first book he pushed a small boy out of a window in order to preserve the secrecy of his relationship with his sister. Years earlier, he, while still a member of the king's royal guard, slew the king and allowed the usurping armies to enter the capital unopposed. However, later in the series there are a number of chapters from his perspective and you learn to empathize and understand his motivations. While I'm not a fan of the apologist villains who reveal they were abused as a child and that's been the drive for every evil thing they've done over the past 50 years, every villain is a person as much as an antagonist. Even the phychopath, who feels no regret or empathy, has traits that can be empathized with. My biggest pet peeve in an antagonist is an antagonist who is bad simply for the sake of being bad; the purposeless mastermind who wants to destroy the world for no reason. Serial killers are motivated by the need for control, for power, to see someone die. Sadists are motivated to see the pain of others. School shooters are motivated by anger or a desire to make themselves known to the world. Suicide bombers are motivated by religion and political beliefs. My point is, every villain has some sort of motivation and and if he has no motivation but to be a villain, he's not a real person. Furthermore, real people have traits that can be empathized with.
     
    Last edited: Dec 15, 2015
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  7. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    It isn't Fantasy per se, just everywhere in general. This isn't to say that a redemptive arc can't be great, like a Darth Vader, but behind Vader there was still an evil emperor. In fantasy fiction I've read them over the years but none that stick in my memory. Which might speak to why I wouldn't bother to write or read one without danged good cause.

    In general, if a writer has gone so far as to achieve a great villain, I am really turned off by the villain's "redemption". If you're going to be evil, by golly, stick to your guns. If I'm going to watch a villain's arc, I would greatly prefer to watch their descent into "evil". Learn the point of view, empathize and maybe even sympathize with the point of view, great, but go too far and it washes out the story. Which then makes me say, "meh, who cares."

    One great example on tv is Once Upon a Time, holy smokes, where the bad guys started out interesting, then got watered down, then flat out drowned into lifeless piles of humanist character goo... pretty much the same for the good guys in this case.

    A lot of times I think writers fall in love with their villains, and that's dangerous. It can weaken a story. Hannibal Lecter redeemed? Not at all.
     
  8. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    Empathy and redemption are two different things, although you need empathy for an effective redemption.
     
  9. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    Marvel does this in their comics quite frequently. Bad guy, who can be quite villainous and sinister, ends up being (after many years, sometimes) either a hero or an antihero.

    In movies, you see this with the character Magneto. First X-men movie, he's truly the bad guy. But in the second movie, he joins the X-men in their fight and becomes an antihero. In the latest X-men movie, he's almost a downright hero (the aged version of him.) Mystique follows a similar arc. I believe that in the comic, Magneto and the White Queen of the Hellfire Club at one point each end up being official headmasters living in the mansion, replacing Professor X. Even Loki in the movies skirts the edge of being an antihero in the last Thor movie (if I'm remembering correctly.)
     
  10. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    I am NOT talking about grey characters or empathizing with villain's motivations for doing villainous things.

    I am talking about antagonist and "villain" characters undergoing their own character arc over the course of the story that leads to their redemption. It seems to me that in most fantasy, the antagonists never change and develop much if at all over the course of the story. They are mostly just there to create conflict and to stand in the way of the heroes. Even in books that bother to characterize the antagonists, they don't usually change over the course of the story. They don't have their own story arc.

    Darth Vader should have had more of a character arc during the Star Wars movies. We should have had more insight into his backstory and seen him slowly beginning to doubt himself and change his mind about what he was doing. I think viewers sensed the potential for a strong redemptive arc there, but it was still mostly just potential. That's why Lucas tried to tell his story in the prequels, but it was done in the wrong place too late. It wasn't the redemptive arc that people wanted. And telling the story of his descent into evil proved quite unsatisfying for most people.

    Honestly, I think there's too strong a tendency in the west to need to delineate "good guys" and "bad guys". I like stories, like the one I talked about above, that show how the heroes are really no different from the villains, except that they made different choices. "There but for the grace of God go I" sort of thing. I think that's much more... believable and true to human nature.
     
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  11. Miskatonic

    Miskatonic Auror

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    Very true. There's a point where redemption is nearly impossible, like with Hannibal Lecter. Helping someone catch a serial killer doesn't excuse a past filled with killing and eating people.

    If the notion of evil insofar as how it is portrayed by the villain's actions can be challenged then there's a greater possibility for some type of realistic redemption or flat out disproving of the actions being truly evil to begin with. Playing around with the ideas of good and evil is more fun but sometimes you just need that representation of pure evil.
     
  12. Miskatonic

    Miskatonic Auror

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    But then were they ever really villains to begin with if the history about them was false?

    And on a side note, if you get a chance to watch the anime "Curse of the undead yoma", I'd love to read your thoughts on it. I seem to be the only one that thinks it's any good.
     
    Last edited: Dec 15, 2015
  13. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    Well, that's the point. From the pov of the main characters (and thus the reader) they were villains, but the end of the story they are clearly not viewed that way anymore.

    Do you mean Blood Reign: Curse of the Yoma? I'd never heard of it before. Looks a bit hard to find.
     
  14. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    There seems to be a split. Redeemed "in the eyes of the viewers/readers" or redeemed "through-and-through internally."

    Is the villainy a mere façade fooling the readers at first? Or is the character truly villainous but becomes reformed, experiences a type of spiritual redemption?

    The latter will of course also be "in the eyes of the readers." But these seem to be two different things.
     
  15. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    I thought I made it clear that I was talking about both. Because the nature of storytelling is in how you tell the story to the reader. So you can choose either to include the villain's point of view and give him his own redemptive arc shown over the course of the story, or you can choose not to show it from the villain's point of view and instead through how the hero's view of the villain changes over the course of the story as the true nature of the villain is revealed. It doesn't matter. It's 6 of one, half a dozen of the other.
     
  16. Devouring Wolf

    Devouring Wolf Sage

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    I like really morally grey characters so its hard for me in most of the books I read to draw the line between hero and villain. It's more just that one's the main character and the other is adverse to them. So I have no problem with characters who aren't actually bad or have a true redemptive arc, but what I dislike is if they start working with the protagonist against an even greater evil. There's just something about that which makes me feel cheated.

    I guess I'm not really a fan of the whole "it was just a misunderstanding" resolution to a conflict, especially when there's an even greater evil involved. If the whole point of the story was that villian's aren't as evil as they first appear, I'd be okay with it, but if there's some other finale resolution tacked on after that I find it annoying. It's like saying "not everyone is as evil as they appear, except the new big bad"

    I think part of it has to do with timing. If someone is portrayed as a villain, but early on before the actual plot of the book starts we find out that was a misunderstanding and the real plot begins, that can be nice. If you build up a villain the entire book and then in the last act say "oh by the way, I'm a good guy and there's a greater evil we have to go fight" it feels like a cop out to me. If the entire point of the book was that people aren't so evil as they first appear and we only find out the villain was misunderstood at the end, I'd be okay with that if it didn't have the greater evil tacked on because that almost defeats the purpose of the redemption.
     
  17. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    Human nature itself might be the greatest evil. But on the whole I would disagree with these statements. But it goes into plenty of philosophical directions where lots of things need defined, and is really kind of pointless. Easier to just say:

    Plenty of folks would probably like redeemed bad guys, plenty won't give a fig, and plenty will not like it.
     
  18. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

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    I once did a non-canon spinoff story involving one of my favorite villains from my own works, in which the villain turned aside from his murderous ambitions, learned the meaning of forgiveness and found redemption and forgiveness through self-sacrifice (not a deadly sort, but significant nonetheless). I went from hating this guy to wanting to wrap him in hugs. Sadly, the version of him I intend to publish a novel with is still the villainous one, but at least I now know how he could be if things were different. And that's a nice thing to know.
     
  19. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    Throwing in a little GOT... Jaime is a villian, you don't push a kid out of a tower while banging your sis and not be a villain. Do we empathize with him? Sure, we might come to, and he might seek redemption in his own self-serving way, but calling him gray is a little off... or... if you want to call him gray, you must admit a character arc.
     
  20. psychotick

    psychotick Auror

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    Hi,

    I generally don't like redemptive arcs. I don't find them believable.

    A long time ago I used to go to the local gym and there was a guy there who was an ex-murderer / manslaughterer. He was out and had "found God" and so forth, which sounded good. But when you listened to him you realised that he still hadn't got it. He understood that killing was wrong - but not why it was wrong. He hadn't discovered guilt or shame for his actions, even though he had apologised to the victim's family. And even though he didn't intend to make the same mistakes again, he still made many of the other more minor mistakes like drugs / steroids that had led him to making the big one.

    My thought was that he had learned consequences, and saying the right words, but not true empathy.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
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