I have a character in my story that I want to turn from a bad guy into a good guy. The problem is that he’s guilty of committing several atrocities including mass genocide. I don’t see how I can turn him into a good guy in a way that I can redeem him. Any thoughts?
Oooooo that is a tough one. Redeeming someone who committed mass genocide is certainly a tall order and frankly… it’s impossible. Morally, there really isn’t any way a person can be redeemed for committing such a heinous crime. I think at most, heroes would accept that person as an ally of convenience at most.
In truth, both Lucasfilm and Marvel really seemed to struggle with this one. Lucasfilm had to find a way to ‘save’ Anakin Skywalker at the end of Return of the Jedi. This is the guy who killed multiple Jedi including young children. How can one be redeemed from something like that? Well… they went about it in kind of a weird way. It’s sort of an ambiguous explanation, but Obi Wan seems to imply that Darth Vader and Anakin Skywalker are in fact two different people. Could it be that the force influence over a Jedi alters their personality when they go from light to dark and vice versa?
Luke: You mean it controls your actions?
Obi Wan: Partially, but it also obeys your commands.
Obi Wan: Your father was seduced by the dark side of the force. He ceased to be Anakin Skywalker and became Darth Vader. When that happened, the good man who was your father, was destroyed.
So it is kind of implied that this is the case.
Marvel really messed up on this one… everyone already knows my opinion on the Phoenix Saga, but when the writers decided to resurrect Jean Grey, they had to figure out a way to do it that absolved her of the mass genocide she’d committed as Phoenix… despite the fact that she wasn’t even really responsible for her actions. To do that, they made it so that her and the Phoenix were two different beings and the Phoenix had essentially copied her physical characteristics.
So if you’re not willing to do a workaround, and I highly advise against it, I’d say that you probably can’t absolve the character. You can have them work for good, but they’ll never be out from under what they did. At best, I’d say by the end of the story, kill that character off. Have them sacrifice themselves to save the heroes or another large group of people.
I call this particular plot device the ‘Last Rite Redemption’. In my opinion the only way to cleanse the soul of someone who has committed such horrible crimes would be for that person to willingly give their lives to destroy an ultimate evil or save an ultimate good. Even then it may not be a redemption, but that’s as close as you’re going to get.
If you’re hoping to make that character a hero… likely that’s never going to happen.
Readers, what do you think? Do you have any advice for Linney?
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