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2009-01-21 21:53:04
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Fall from Grace.
How to turn your hero into a villain.

By [alexdamien]

Traitors, liars and hypocrites. All of them have been done in fantasy over and over again. The evil advisor, the cowardly traitor, the hypocritical noble. Everybody knows them and can recognize them as soon as they appear.

Which makes them useless for your story.

A resource that would help you far more would be what I call the Fall from Grace. Turning a hero into an villain. This must NOT be confused with having the prideful friend of the hero turn evil out of envy. That has also been done to death, and it will kill your story faster than fire.

What we want to do here is to turn a true hero into a villain. One who from the first page looks like a hero.

I’ll explain with an example. Let’s say you have four characters: Hero, Heroine, Sidekick, Villain, and a star wars type of plot. The hero is the son of the villain.

Now you have to work on you characters. The type of character building this requires is slightly different from your typical hair color, eye color, name, ethnicity, etc. (Which you should NOT use…Please)

You don’t start with any of those things. Well, you can name them, but don’t duel much on their names, just put the first thing you can think about, if it sounds like a name you have never hear before, all the better. Why? Because you don’t want to be biased in any way. If you name your character John and you had a dorky friend in school named john, that will affect the way you think about your character and every time you want him to do something serious, you will remember your dorky friend and even if you don’t realize it your story will be biased.

So, let’s call our hero Avarel. He’s a 20 something man who works at the market to support his mom because their father abandoned them. The whole point of the Fall from Grace thing is that the hero must first be in Grace, it must seem to us from all angles that he is the one true hero, he must convince himself and you must convince your readers of it.

As a hero you want him to have heroic characteristics like courage, honesty, responsibility. Write this down. Take one of the heroic characteristics and put it as the most important thing for him. Let’s say it’s honesty. He won’t lie. For no reason. It is the single most important thing for him and he will always tell the truth even if it hurts him. See your character in your mind’s eye and try to see how that will shape him. He would then say things like “I won’t hide who I am” or “If I start lying where will I stop?” then you put the other values in descendant order like this: 1. Truth 2.Responsibility 3.Courage. You must push this values as much as you can in the story. Show the reader that those things are what shape him as the person he is, as a hero.

Then we get to the fun stuff, twisting your hero. Push the boundaries of his values. Make him face circumstances that make him question his values, which make him lie or be irresponsible. If you push him far enough, he will start pushing back.

Maybe he doesn’t likes the rebellion he has to lead against the evil overlord. Maybe he doesn’t trusts the people there to back him up and fears for his life. Maybe he feels that those people have brought this oppressive situation on themselves. If he values responsibility he will be affronted by people that to him seem like uncaring idiots, if he values courage he can see cowardice more easily on others. He will be angry at not having people be
courageous enough to follow him through what he needs to do.

All this must be done is a gradual way. One does not suddenly wakes up one day and says “Ah, being good kinda sucks. I’m gonna be evil now” No, many strong incidents that reach deep into the core of your character have to happen so the Fall can be believable and not just a tacked on plot device.

Find ways to weaken his resolve and make him doubt himself. The technique of using one bad characteristic as the hero’s downfall is good, but makes the fall very predictable. Don’t think your readers are so naïve that they won’t catch on your subtle writing. Most of the time subtle is not quite so. It is better, and more surprising for the reader to push the virtues of the hero to the point where they turn on him. It’s like using a double edged sword, you have to be careful.

So confuse your readers, make your writing so complex they won’t know what happens next, and yet so believable that they can understand the thoughts of your characters. That’s what makes them unable to stay away from your writing.

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