When Evil Characters Switch Sides

I like a plain old dastardly villain I can hate, but a seemingly evil character who gradually discovers their soft, gooey core, and crosses over to join the good guys? No matter how many times I see it, if it’s done well it still gives me the warm and fuzzies.

I was thinking of this because I’ve recently been reading the Throne of Glass series, which is full of villains that change their colours and show their softer sides, as well as morally questionable heroes and heroines in general. I’ve also finished the Red Rising trilogy, which has so many characters crossing back and forth it’s hard to tell who’ll be left standing on the “good” side in the end. Clearly, it’s something many readers, myself included, enjoy.

So what is it that’s so compelling about this ‘crossing over’ from evil to good? Here is my attempt at breaking it down:

Redemption

This is probably the most obvious one, so I had to say it first. When a bad character finally takes that step to help another person and do the noble thing, it gives me hope. It’s an affirmation that even those who have done awful things can be redeemed or see the error of their ways, and that there is potential for compassion and kindness in everyone.

Delicious Flaws

An evil character who changes their colours comes with all sorts of baggage that makes them complex and interesting. I find a perfect hero who is noble from the start much less engaging than a flawed anti-hero who’s fought their darker side or past in order to do the right thing… and maybe constantly fights it at each turn.

Rebellion

Then there’s the fact that in order to cross to the good side, “bad guys” generally have to rebel against other bad guys (often their tyrannical overlords). There’s something satisfying about seeing a character turn on someone who has misled or hurt them, and finally pull free of that dark influence.

The Power of Love

I had to mention love. Maybe its sappy, but it’s wonderful when love brings compassion to a cold heart. In a romance it’s especially heartwarming to watch a character cross the battle lines for the love of another.

The Character Arc

I love to see characters change and evolve, and there’s rarely a greater change than seeing a character switch sides and get in touch with their kinder emotions. Sometimes it goes the other way, as a good guy crosses to the dark side… and while that can be equally dramatic, it just doesn’t come with all those nice, uplifting feelings.

A New Weapon

On the less romantic side, in fantasy or science fiction a character crossing to the good side can often mean the good guys add another weapon to their arsenal, just as the bad guys lose one. This can prove crucial in tipping the balance to the side of good… and I’m all for anything that might help the good guys win.

A Truth Revealed

In some cases, the evil character has been operating under a misconception or lie, and it’s climactic when that lie is finally revealed (not to mention tense if we readers know the lie and are constantly waiting for it to be revealed). I suppose this also ties into rebellion if the newly reformed character seeks revenge on the person who lied to them.

The Suspense of Potential Disaster

The beauty of reading is that you get to see inside the characters’ heads, so you usually see a villain’s immanent change of heart looming… but the other characters don’t. As a result, I’m often held in suspense as I hope the good guys don’t kill a villain before they have a chance to reveal or prove their better intentions… or as I hope the other bad guys don’t get wind of the possible treachery and punish them for it.

A Turning Point

The moment of ‘turning’ when a character switches sides is pretty much always a climactic point in a novel. It’s surprising, it dramatically changes the story, and it becomes a memorable and exciting scene that I think about long after I’ve finished reading.

________

Those are just a few reasons why I love seeing villains become heroes. I avoided mentioning specific examples, even though I have plenty of favourites, as I’ve realised such moments are often spoilers – they happen at key turning points in a book and are generally unexpected and pivotal. I’d hate to spoil a book for anyone!

Do you enjoy it when cruel or evil characters reveal their softer side? And do you have any favourite bad-turned-good science fiction or fantasy characters?

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12 thoughts on “When Evil Characters Switch Sides

  1. All of this. I need more of all of it in my life. Very well said!

    “[The ToG series is] full of villains that change their colours and show their softer sides, as well as morally questionable heroes and heroines in general.”

    This has to be the single most compelling argument I’ve ever seen for reading the series. I’ve been kind of intending to keep reading it (after disliking the first book), but you’ve managed to genuinely pique my interest. You deserve a medal. =D

    Liked by 2 people

    • Haha, glad I could pique your interest! It’s funny you say that about the ToG series because I also originally wasn’t sure whether to continue (I liked the first 2 books but didn’t adore them). As I kept going though there were more conflicted evil-turning-good characters in the mix and the story expanded a lot. My favourite character was introduced in book 3, and book 4 made it onto my ‘favourite books of all time’ list… so I won’t say it’s perfect or for everyone but it definitely grew on me!!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh wow- I knew I was going to love this post just from the title and I was right! I absolutely *love* redemption stories!!! They’re one of my favourite things (some people judge me for this, cos let’s face it he is a genocidal maniac, but that’s why Darth Vader is my favourite Star Wars character) And yes- anti-heroes are incredible! They’re one of my favourite things too- they’re so exquisitely complex! And I love seeing a character change for love- just about melts my heart every time!!!! Also I loved what you said about the turning point- one book I read recently made the bad guy flip back and forth from bad to good so that there were so many turning points that the book felt like a rollercoaster (it was an amazing read! Not sure I should say the book cos that’s a bit of a spoiler)
    Great to have you back! Hope you had fun with your family!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Glad you love these redemption stories as much as I do!! And the changed-for-love ones melt my heart every time too 🙂

      I also really like Darth Vader – he’d probably be my favourite if I hadn’t developed a childhood attachment to Obi-wan Kenobi (which was later cemented by a soft spot for Ewan McGregor 😀 ). Anyway, maybe people would judge me for this opinion too but I reckon if a story can get you to like or feel hope for a genocidal maniac then it is doing its job well.

      That book with all the flipping back and forth sounds awesome – I can imagine it might be spoiler-ish to mention it though. Maybe if it is a fantasy I will stumble across it soon anyway and realise what you were talking about! If not I may have to come back and ask for a clue 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • ahh I really do!!
        He is amazing- but I do understand that! haha yes that’s exactly it- it’s why I love the original trilogy so much!
        haha well it’s not a fantasy book, it was sci fi, but for someone that doesn’t read sci fi it was really really good- so I’d recommend it regardless!! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • Ah okay, well sci fi is almost an equal favourite genre along with fantasy for me now (A few years ago I would never have said that, but I’ve read so many awesome sci fi books since then I’ve completely changed my mind!) so it’s still likely I’ll end up reading it, esp. if you’ve recommended it in the past. Am quite enjoying this mystery of the unnamed book! 😀

          Liked by 1 person

        • Ahh I’m starting to really like it too- it’s still not up there with fantasy for me- but I’m very open to reading it now and I’ve started to think of it as one of my go to genres 🙂 Absolutely!! You’ll have definitely heard of it for sure 🙂 haha I know it’s exciting!

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Way back when, I remember watching a pretty bad translation of Space Battleship Yamato, where the villain Desslar was so moved by the valor of the Earth fighters that he gave up his plans of conquest. When done right, it works!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha yes true, it has to be done right. I’ve seen a few movies where the villain switches sides and it’s either unconvincing, unbelievable or just not very satisfying! I think perhaps when the main villain switches sides it’s very tricky to do it right, because it potentially takes all the tension/challenge out of hero’s quest or victory.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Reblogged this on jmwwriting and commented:
    Like Nicola Alter, I too like the idea of bad characters turning good. We already have a lot of stories of a hero’s fall. Star Wars is a key example. Many Star Wars stories tell about a good jedi falling to the dark-side. What about a jedi being brought back into the light? This is a concept I am toying with in a story I am working on now.

    Liked by 1 person

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