How to turn a good guy bad is a rare but intriguing twist to the conventional hero storyline that audiences are so well acquainted with. Most stories are led by decent, moral individuals. Despite their flaws, they have noble intentions, who want to do what is right for the best of mankind. All Marvel and DC superheroes, Aragorn, James Bond, Ethan Hunt, John McClain, every Liam Neeson action flick, etc…
Occasionally, this ‘conventional good guy narrative’ is punctured by an anti-hero, like Jaime Lannister or Sand Dan Glokta (from Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy). But it is extremely rare for a good guy to be completely corrupted in a very logical way throughout the course of the narrative.
This blog post will show you how to turn a good guy bad in four steps, by looking at the examples of Michael Corleone from The Godfather and Anakin Skywalker from the Star Wars prequels for back up.
(Like with how to get out of a sticky situation, the ‘good guy’ must always either be the main character or a POV Character. Also, this theory and these steps apply with the equal validity to female characters as well. I just don’t know any examples of women in stories who started off good and turned bad by the end of the narrative. That’s all.)
Step 1 – The Main Character Must Start Off With Good, Noble Intentions
For the main character to ‘turn bad,’ it is imperative that he/she begins the narrative with good, noble intentions. (By definition, the central protagonist cannot be corrupted if his/her intentions were bad from the off.)
The writer can choose what ‘good, noble intentions’ he/she likes for the main character. But as an idea, the central protagonist should start off by being a law-abiding citizen, who cares for those close to him/her while at the same time wanting to do something for the betterment of the society in which he/she lives in.
Example 1 – Michael Corleone Fights For Freedom
At the start of The Godfather, Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) is in the Marines after quitting Dartmouth College. He wants to live an above-average American life, and is currently fighting the Japanese in WWII to ensure that freedom and the American Way prevail, which is pretty noble.
Above-all, he wants nothing to do with the criminal mafia business of his father, Vito Corleone. (As it happens, his father agrees. He’d rather Michael go into politics.)
At the start of The Godfather, Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) is wearing an American soldier’s uniform and is fighting for freedom in WWII.
Example 2 – Anakin Skywalker Fights For The Republic
At the start of Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge Of The Sith, Anakin Skywalker is a lightsabre-wielding Jedi, fighting for the Republic. He believes in democracy, the rule of law, and the Separation of Powers between the Chancellor, the Senate and the Jedi Council.
Moreover, Anakin chases down and kills the enemies of the Republic/the Sith sympathisers, including Count Dooku (Christopher Lee). Plus, he rescues Chancellor Palpatine to ensure that the Republic’s integrity is not compromised.
Step 2 – A Traumatic Event Must Occur To Force A Rethink
Quite early on in the narrative, an event must occur. This event must be traumatic for the main character, and it must cast doubt on the central protagonist’s prior way of thinking. Indeed, this event begins the journey to corruption.
Example – Vito Corleone Is Nearly Killed
Michael Corleone’s worldview begins to turn after a double assassination attempt on his father, Vito. It is then that Michael reconsiders everything that he knows and wants up to this point.
In his mind, he cannot just let those responsible for the attacks (notably Solezzo) go scott-free, as if nothing happened. So, he renounces his pledge about being part of his father’s mafioso business. Michael tricks Solezzo and his cop friend into meeting him at a ‘neutral’ venue. There, he kills them.
Step 2a – Make The Main Character Blame Himself
Writers can go one better when formulating the traumatic event. If they can, they should make the main character blame himself for the traumatic event. Therefore, the main character, either through his own action(s) or by default, believes that he is responsible for what happened.
Example – Anakin Blames Himself For His Mother’s Death
Anakin holding his mother’s wrapped up body in Episode II. He blame himself for it, and this impacts his decision-making process in Episode III for the worse.
In Star Wars: Episode II – Attack Of The Clones, Anakin has visions that his mother is in trouble. He learns that she was captured by Tusken raiders. He goes to Tatooine and finds her bound and beaten. Subsequently, she dies in his arms and then Anakin slaughters the entire Tusken tribe.
Anakin blames himself, believing that if he had been there for his mother, she would still be alive. He then vows never to let another of his loved ones die if he can help it. This has terrible consequences for himself in Episode III, when he has visions of his wife, Padmé, dying.
Seduced by Chancellor Palpatine’s lies (when he tells Anakin that the Jedi are holding him back and that only the Sith can he save Padmé), Anakin turns to the Dark Side to acquire these ‘powers.’
End of Part I
Thank you for reading Part I of how to turn a good guy bad. I hope you have enjoyed this topic so far. We will discuss steps three and four in next week’s blog post.
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