December 11, 2017, 07:33:49 AM

Author Topic: Characters who change between good and bad  (Read 797 times)

Offline Nora

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Re: Characters who change between good and bad
« Reply #15 on: November 30, 2017, 08:13:22 PM »
What? Wait. No one is mentioning bloody Jaime Lannister? Come on guys! Starts his career throwing children off windows to keep his incest secret, ends up having most readers rooting for him. What was amazing with him is that his evolution was as subtle as Cersei's. Over hundreds of pages, both shift from self-centred deep-grey characters, to a lighter and darker shade respectively. Cersei goes mental while Jaime is forced to reconsider all his values after he loses his sword hand. You're never told he becomes nicer. You're shown how his opinions and beliefs shift as he reacts to what the world dumps on him.
In the end he's my favourite character, even over Tyrion, and I hope he can survive the whole ordeal.

But no, I don't think you're in any real danger of alienating readers if you handle your character well. You should present him/her as rather grey early on if you want us to not jump in surprise, and then work your way to the more obnoxious behaviours.
All MCs need to be flawed to make the story catch, but I guess after that there are shades of grey you can cloak them in.
A nice MC who does super shady stuff out of the blue is unrealistic, for sure. It's what made me hate the second mistborn book. The MC was behaving totally stupidly and against all the instinct she ought to have ingrained in her from her childhood.
I doubt you'd make that sort of clunky, awkward shifts.
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Offline Elfy

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Re: Characters who change between good and bad
« Reply #16 on: November 30, 2017, 08:52:26 PM »
Could probably also throw the MCU's Loki into this. He's very bad in the first Thor and the first Avengers, starts off still bad in the second Thor, but becomes a bit of a hero before going bad again.
I will expand your TBR pile.

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Offline cupiscent

Re: Characters who change between good and bad
« Reply #17 on: November 30, 2017, 09:21:15 PM »
I find the good-to-bad slide much more interesting than the bad-to-good redemption, so that's the aspect of this I keep thinking about. :)

A book I read recently--Ilana C Meyer's Last Song Before Night--had a main character who was flawed from the outset, a balance of problems and charms, and in the course of the book we get to see his flaws really canker and eat away at his charms. In one regard, it's a thorough and realistic portrayal. But I found it really irritating because it seemed so... straightforward. Here is a man weighed down with anxieties and jealousies. Watch those problems drown him. Drown, little man, drown. There was no surprise in this progression. (I also found it irritating because I really liked his charms, and so it was super annoying to see more time being devoted to his flaws, as it were.)

Conversely, an old favourite of mine--Jennifer Fallon's Lion of Senet--has an arc for the main character where he has to make "villainous" decisions in order to come out at the best outcome overall. He hurts people, he does it on purpose, and he hates doing it, but he does it really, really well. It's not quite a genuine slide into villainy, but it was a hugely interesting and satisfying story for me. (And you could tip it a little further into darkness, ask where the line is, what will or won't you do to achieve the right thing, etc.)

Actually, now that I think of it, that movie The Ides of March might be worth a visit here. It's been ages since I saw it, but I recall Ryan Gosling's character being a good guy, crusading for the "right" team, trying to achieve overall good, but in the process being forced to be party to and actively participate in some minor evil. Stellar performances really help bring together the moral aspects.

Offline Peat

Re: Characters who change between good and bad
« Reply #18 on: November 30, 2017, 09:58:03 PM »
Hmm. There might be some good examples in movies. Network features a lot of characters slipping into a mire from which they do not escape. Full Metal Jacket arguably is similar. TV wise, haven't watched either, but Breaking Bad and The Wire sound like they have possible inspirations there.

There's some military/intelligence/crime memoirs out there that seem very focused on the idea of "I was a normal-ish guy, then the job got me". In fictional terms, Le Carre goes to that well albeit not so much for the protagonists. It would be really interesting to play things with a long term middle agent that's only revealed when we grow to love them in their original role.

I dunno. For me, I don't want to just see the character go to grey places... I want to see them switch tribe. Because that's more taboo in fantasy. That would be truly impressive. Grey heroes, heroes getting a bit antiheroic? Feh. Been done. Although not as much as the Redemption arc, true.

Offline tebakutis

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Re: Characters who change between good and bad
« Reply #19 on: November 30, 2017, 11:30:29 PM »
What? Wait. No one is mentioning bloody Jaime Lannister? Come on guys! Starts his career throwing children off windows to keep his incest secret, ends up having most readers rooting for him. What was amazing with him is that his evolution was as subtle as Cersei's. Over hundreds of pages, both shift from self-centred deep-grey characters, to a lighter and darker shade respectively. Cersei goes mental while Jaime is forced to reconsider all his values after he loses his sword hand. You're never told he becomes nicer. You're shown how his opinions and beliefs shift as he reacts to what the world dumps on him.
In the end he's my favourite character, even over Tyrion, and I hope he can survive the whole ordeal.

Oh, Jaime is one of my favorite examples of a character you initally loathe, than root for, but I'd argue he doesn't necessarily change his morals or become significantly less gray over the books - instead, I think we gain a deeper understanding into WHY he does things, rather than having him actually change.

I'm going to put my thoughts in spoiler tags for the one person who hasn't read all the books yet, because whatever :)

Spoiler for Hiden:
Our first exposure is Jaime diddling his sister and then pushing a kid out a window to die. Seems horrific.

Then we're told that during the sack of King's Landing, the rebels entered the throne room to find Jaime (a member of the Kingsguard) sitting on the king's chair polishing his sword and looking all cockish after having stabbed the king in the back to save his own skin. This makes him a coward, a betrayer, *and* a dick.

The next big "bad" thing we see Jaime do is randomly assault Ned and his soldiers in King's Landing, as he demands his "brother back". Again, because we've had only Ned and Caitlyn chapters to this point, it seems like Jaime is being petty and unreasonable.

It's only at the end of the book and in later books, as the story progresses, that we finally get *context* for why Jaime took these reprehensible actions, and our opinion changes (or mine did).

We learn that if it's ever discovered that Joffrey, Tommen, and Myrcella are children of incest, Jaime's children will be banished (probably killed) as will he and Cersei. You even see that he feels bad about pushing Bran out the window, but he had to do it because if he hadn't, he literally would have been consigning the woman he loves and all three of his own children to death. So he pushed Bran, not enjoying it, to protect his children.

Then we learn (in the bath scene with Brienne) that Jaime has kept a secret all his life. As the rebels closed on King's Landing, the Mad King decided to incinerate the entire city (and its thousands of citizens) in wildfire. Jaime was forced to break his oath to kill the Mad King to stop him from literally burning everyone in King's Landing alive, and THEN, to make it even more brutal, forced to keep the king's secrets (his honor demands it!) and not TELL anyone the king planned to burn the city down and everyone in it.

So basically, he does the honorable thing twice, killing the king to save everyone in King's Landing, and then *keeps* the king's secret, which ensures he will be called a Kingslayer and regarded as a betrayer/coward/asshole for the rest of his days. Ironically, it is his strong sense of honor that forces him to be universally regarded as wholly *without* honor.

Finally, we learn that Littlefinger or one of his people informed Jaime that Catelyn Stark had abducted Jaime's brother Tyrion (who he loves dearly, despite his father and sister hating Tyrion) and that he went after Ned in an attempt to (as he saw it) rescue his brother from the Starks, who wanted to imprison or execute Tyrion. So now his attack in the first book (which seemed petty) becomes about, again, an attempt to protect his own family.

So it's not so much that Jaime's moral code changes. It's more that his actions are presented in the worst possible context, initially, and secrets are kept from us, and then once all those secrets are revealed we suddenly see all of his previous actions in an entirely new and sympathetic light - even pushing Bran out the window! And once we start getting multiple PoV chapters and seeing how focused Jaime is on protecting people (Brienne, his family, the kingdom) and realize how much he's sacrificed, we start to root for him.

So it's masterful writing, IMO, but I'd argue that it's not so much *Jaime* changing as it is our *perception* of Jaime changing. The Jaime in later books is humbled, certainly, but still has the moral code of the Jaime we first met. We just understand his actions differently.



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Offline Nora

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Re: Characters who change between good and bad
« Reply #20 on: November 30, 2017, 11:54:37 PM »
Spoiler for Hiden:
Mmmh, I agree with your interpretation, except that you don't mention his distance towards Cersei in the end, or his nascent passion to actually do good as captain "golden hand". In the last book I don't think he's the same man, and Brienne is the one who changed him most. After all his risks loosing his life for her, whilst he's always been selfish so far.
Also, wanting to protect your incestuous children and your sister-wife is hardly a hallmark of great moral behaviour. I still think he makes genuine progress. Tyrion hurts him too, in their farewell. He becomes more broody, more thoughtful, or so I felt.
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Wishy washy lyricism and maudlin unrequited love are my specialty - so said Lady_Ty

Offline tebakutis

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Re: Characters who change between good and bad
« Reply #21 on: December 01, 2017, 04:21:08 AM »
Good points, Nora! I agree with that. Jaime's growth due to the new influences in his life are another big part of why I ended up rooting for him.
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You can read my cyberpunk police procedural Loose Circuit for free at the link!

Offline tebakutis

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Re: Characters who change between good and bad
« Reply #22 on: December 01, 2017, 04:25:21 AM »
TV wise, haven't watched either, but Breaking Bad and The Wire sound like they have possible inspirations there.

Both of those shows are excellent, both from a viewer and a "writing" perspective. I'd suggest picking one or the other (I think Breaking Bad is still on Netflix?, and you can watch The Wire on Amazon Prime now if you don't have HBO) and working your way through. I feel like I learned a lot about storytelling just by paying attention to how those shows were written.

Even though I watch a lot more SFF than non-SFF, those two shows are among my favorite dramas, or, I daresay, stories, of all time.
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You can read my cyberpunk police procedural Loose Circuit for free at the link!

Offline The Gem Cutter

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Re: Characters who change between good and bad
« Reply #23 on: December 01, 2017, 04:31:04 AM »
I want to recant my statement about throwing the book to a narrow chance that I might remain interested if the shift is done well. If it makes sense to my own view of how people learn and change and react, and all those verbs' negative, often destructive cousins. People often adapt poorly to the world and the events in their lives, and there's more than a few good stories to be told about that journey.
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Offline Rostum

Re: Characters who change between good and bad
« Reply #24 on: December 07, 2017, 11:50:51 AM »
I would suggest good and bad are simplistic abstract constructs that are limiting to your characters.
As a person I strive to be a decent human being and often fall short, but I doubt many people wake up and think 'hmm what can I do that is truly evil today?' most of the stuff we do that we are not proud of is reactive or responsive to situation we find ourselves in, not a calculated action.
Perhaps to varying degrees people have the potential to be both and it is part of being human.

Offline cupiscent

Re: Characters who change between good and bad
« Reply #25 on: December 07, 2017, 10:58:20 PM »
I doubt many people wake up and think 'hmm what can I do that is truly evil today?' most of the stuff we do that we are not proud of is reactive or responsive to situation we find ourselves in, not a calculated action.

I prefer to phrase it as "What can I do to help people?" versus "What can I do to destroy [people / a person]?"

Sometimes I'm really angry and following through on the destructive impulses feels really satisfying, but that doesn't mean they're any less bad. And I can sometimes do the same things for reasons from either side of the spectrum. It certainly is complicated. But I would say that "giving in to the dark side" is a definite thing, and something most of us do at least a little bit every day. It's not some abstract "evil" thing.

Offline Nora

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Re: Characters who change between good and bad
« Reply #26 on: December 07, 2017, 11:33:10 PM »
So, in manga culture there is a group of women artists called CLAMP, who did the famous Chobits, Sacura Card Captor, xxxHolic, X/1999... and Magic Knight Rayearth :



In which three young (obviously) japanese students all from different schools find themselves visiting Tokyo tower at the same time on school trips, and end up teleported in a fantasy world to be the Knight Rayearth and save the world, where the Princess who upholds reality has been kidnapped by her grand vizir or something, a 2m tall long black haired dude all in black scary looking garb.



So without the princess, the world is falling apart and monsters are appearing. The girls get weapons (which match their hair colour and uniform, cause, y'know... so blue hair is water, red head is fire, etc) which slowly upgrade all the way to full on mecha (Japaaaaaan!!), and they fight forces of evil and people from other countries in this world who have opposing interests. It's full on super-hero-saviour-of-ages style.

I mean, look at our baddie, named Zagaato (that's what's written under the dot) :



So yeah, you read on and on, the whole thing bleeds the 90s style of drawing and character design, the story is original only cause this was like 1993-95...

But then the knights learn as they fight their final duel against evil Zagato, that he's actually not evil at all. That all he's done was to try and help and protect the world... that the reason the princess is locked away is because she isolated herself..... because she's dead in love with Zagato. And he with her.
But such strong emotions would just destroy everything.
Cursed lovers! *roll of drums* *tsing!*



Anyway, I'll stop boring you. The moral of this story is that the knights came back to our world really distraught. Completely shocked that they had never been fighting a "bad guy" and that the bad guy had good intentions all along. He thought he was acting for the good, and so did they, so where was good?
Worse, if I remember, they kill him, and the princess. Some sort of weird mix of sacrifice in battle with, whatever, can't remember.
They had a reflective and depressed time, then returned to help the realm since fallen to chaos with the death of the cursed lovers.

I read this very young. It was a pretty blunt way of putting things but the messaged carried. Not everything is as simple as it seems.

End of the day, I'd not recommend such treatment if you're writing for YA or adult. Going from evil to good and good to evil implies that you deal in absolutes, and that should stay a kid's staple, and not an ideal one.
But going from Evil to Good by revealing that the narrator/pov character was misguided... now that's interesting.
Same deal with Mistborn really.
« Last Edit: December 07, 2017, 11:39:02 PM by Nora »
"She will need coffee soon, or molecular degeneration will set in. Her French phrasing will take over even more strongly, and soon she will dissolve into a puddle of alienation and Kierkegaardian despair."  ~ Jmack

Wishy washy lyricism and maudlin unrequited love are my specialty - so said Lady_Ty

Offline Peat

Re: Characters who change between good and bad
« Reply #27 on: December 08, 2017, 01:18:59 AM »
YMMV but I believe that an author can address Good and Bad as serious meaningful concepts without treating them as fixed absolutes, or things that characters either are or aren't, but rather as a sliding scale open to nigh-infinite interpretations, and one in which many humans have a wide possible range, often wider than they believe. I'd go so far as to say I'm not sure how else one treats Good and Bad seriously.

And I also believe just because the definitions are so mutable and subjective does not make the concepts irrelevant; on the contrary, it makes them all the more relevant and powerful. There is nothing limiting about taking on fields of human uncertainty.

And no, very few people wake up and think today I'm going to do bad. But that doesn't mean there aren't people who do mostly bad. And it doesn't mean you can't perceive a difference between good people and bad people after they lash out in anger - good people are there trying to fix it, bad people just shrug. Well, mostly. And yes, you can be mostly good and a bigot, or an arrogant bully, just like you can be bad and be kind to the homeless.

The subject just wouldn't be as much fun if this wasn't the case.

Offline ScarletBea

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Re: Characters who change between good and bad
« Reply #28 on: December 08, 2017, 02:29:38 PM »
I think we can all agree that human beings are on a sliding scale of good/evil and there are no absolutes: the issue was that until very recently, that wasn't reflected in the books we read, right?
I believe that nowadays you find that ambivalence is much more prevalent in most books (or in the books I've been reading, at least).
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Offline Peat

Re: Characters who change between good and bad
« Reply #29 on: December 08, 2017, 10:49:32 PM »
I think we can all agree that human beings are on a sliding scale of good/evil and there are no absolutes: the issue was that until very recently, that wasn't reflected in the books we read, right?
I believe that nowadays you find that ambivalence is much more prevalent in most books (or in the books I've been reading, at least).

I sometimes think we undersell this. I think we're so caught up in the idea that it was Good vs Evil that we maybe overlook things. Was Denethor a bad man? Was Frodo not good enough because he couldn't resist the ring come the end? Is Feanor the hero or the villain of the Silmarillion?

Was it possible that Asmodean might return to the Light? Was the younger Ged a good person? How different was Belgarath from Zedar, or Arutha from Guy du Bas-Tyra? How evil was Raistlin or Brandin of Ygrath?

And a bunch of other questions from ye olde times. Not to mention my examples of possible flawed good people was lifted straight from Discworld.

A lot of those questions are quite difficult to answer because the trend wasn't for such encompassing coverage of a conflict as we see today. But that doesn't mean the authors weren't creating moral quandries.

Maybe its us readers who've changed more than the authors. Maybe we look for it more.