Looking at Character: It Takes More Than a White Hat – The Heel/Face Turn

Hey folks!  Yes, it’s been a few days and I’m usually stickler for daily posts but the Muse has struck hard for the finale of Incorruptible.  Still, I have broken away from writing and taking care of myself to get a new edition of Looking at Character out for you loyal readers.  In today’s article, we’re going to look at something that comes up from time to time in writing, especially when writing dynamic characters in a piece, and that is the Heel/Face Turn (or it’s evil twin, the Face/Heel Turn).  To explain, the terminology comes from the professional wrestling world, where ‘Heels’ are villains and ‘Faces’ are the heroes.  A ‘turn’ can then be inferred, correctly, as a change in status.  The Turn is when a protagonist becomes an antagonist or an antagonist becomes a protagonist.

The thing that is vital about wanting to incorporate such a shift in a major or minor character is to remember to properly characterize such a big shift in a character’s motivation and (often) morality.  In all things, the characterization that you provide as the writer is king.  Sure, you can make a character’s attitudes flip like a coin with no explanation, but you risk breaking (say it with me, everyone) suspension of disbelief when you do so.  Once you lose that, well, you lose the war and you lose the reader.

So, with that in mind, how can you make a villain a hero realistically?  Well, it’s easier than you might think.  If you’ve already been trying to create fully realized characters with relatable personalities, you probably have all the tools you need.  However they act, be it antagonist or protagonist, you’ve given them motivation and reasons to do so.  All it often takes is for that motivation or reason to be altered or to change in the course of the story.  It might be even easier, depending on those motivations, if all it takes is for some important fact to come to light to alter the perceptions of the character in question.

Let’s take a very basic case.  The noble bandit (like a Robin Hood type) is the protagonist and one of his antagonists is the chief of police.  His/her motivation for opposing the bandit is his/her dedication to the law.  Simple.  What if the noble bandit is fighting a hidden corruption by being an outlaw?  Again, pretty classic Robin Hood.  If, in the course of the tale, the chief of police is opened to the corruption hiding in the midst of things, you could logically write a Heel/Face Turn for him/her, drawing on the motivation of dedication to the law causing him/her to join forces with the noble bandit to clean out the corruption.

Basically, it’s as a simple as going ‘Does this make sense in regards to the character, their motivations, and the actions depicted in the story?’.  If the answer is yes, go with it.  If the answer is no, you need to drop the idea or look at why it doesn’t work to fix the story elements to continue with the Turn.  That question, by the way, is probably the best litmus test to use for many decisions about what to do with characters in general.

So, if you want good guys to be bad guys or bad guys to grab a white hat, make sure you have relatable fleshed-out characters so that their choices are understandable, then make sure to properly show the process and the choices that the character makes for their Turn.  I hope that helped and, until next time, good luck and good writing!