Do you have any tips for writing villains turning good? I'm having trouble thinking of valid ways for a bad person to have a change of heart that don't feel abrupt or unnatural.
A villain switching sides can be a very satisfying character arc when done well. In movies and books the ways in which this is presented can vary, but the two ones that seem to be the most effective are:
A) The slow change, after a series of events
This is the classic “redemption plot” (a while back I talked about the different standard plots when asked about there being “no new plot-lines” to write. This was one of them I spoke about). Think stories like: Scrooge, How the Grinch Stole Christmas (apparently xmas is a good old time to change), and one of my all time favourites: Mean Girls.
In these stories the Villains: Scrooge, The Grinch, Regina George, all start out “evil” their motives are selfish, and they want to hurt others. It’s not but for a slow series of events: A visit from three ghosts, the realisation that xmas is in people’s hearts, or the loss of ones “Hot Body”, “Hot Boyfriend”, and “Army of Skanks” that one can the see true change in their hearts.
I get the feeling this is more the way you want to go with your villain character. I understand you don’t want it to be abrupt, which means you will have to give the villain “small loses” throughout the story. Think of what your villain values the most and take that away from them. Think of what your villain would dislike as an outcome to a scene, and have their lowest desire come to be. I could go on, but I think you get the idea. For this to work well, you should do a thorough character profile. Knowing them inside and out would be the best way to know how to change them.
B) The villain was always a secret “goody” we just never got to see and evidence of that.
This plot twist always makes me smile for a while when done well. Think Snape, or Darth Vader.
In Harry Potter, there is so much evidence against Snape being good. I mean, the guy killed Dumbledore FFS. Though, we know the acts to be evil, the reason behind them wasn’t always evil. Their true stories are often revealed through subplots and with revelation lines: “Luke, I am your father.” or “After all this time?” “Always.”
I think these are satisfying because they make everything change, including the past as we know it, when revealed.
Happy Writing :)