How To Corrupt Your Main Character (Part II)

In the last blog post, we look at Part I on how to corrupt your main character. The first step to turning your good guy bad was to have him start out with noble intentions; and the second was to make a traumatic event happen to him to force him into a rethink on his initial ideals (and you could go one better by making him blame himself for this traumatic event).

In this blog post, we shall look at steps three and four on how to corrupt your main character. We shall use the examples of Michael Corleone from The Godfather and Anakin Skywalker from the Star Wars prequel trilogy to illustrate my points. (By the way, these steps can be used equally effectively for turning a female character bad. I just don’t have any examples.)

Step 3 – Subsequent Events Must Confirm His Doubts

At this point, the main character should be in mental turmoil. He is confused about whether his former outlook was correct, does not know if he has taken the right course of action (as described in Step 2).

In short, he does not know which way to turn next. He must be torn as to whether he should pretend as if Step 2 never happened (if that is even possible). Or, to carry on down the dark path to becoming a ‘bad guy.’

The event that happens next will end the debate raging inside your main character’s mind. The event must be that someone close to him does something to confirm that his former outlook was wrong.

Example – Fredo Looks Out For Himself

It’s all smiles between Michael Corleone and his ‘brother’ Fredo. But the smiles are a lie, as Michael is internally seething.

Around two-thirds through The Godfather, Michael Corleone goes to Las Vegas to see how his ‘brother’ Fredo is doing. Plus, Michael goes to make a deal with Moe Greene, a casino owner who is sheltering Fredo as part of an agreement made earlier in the movie.

Michael is dismayed to find that Fredo is now more loyal to Greene than he is the Corleone clan. Michael deems this a betrayal. Indeed, this makes him determined to do whatever is necessary to ensure that no-one will ever betray him again.

Step 3a – Make Him Disillusioned By The Subsequent Events

Writers can add another dimension to the main character’s corruption journey by having these subsequent events not only confirm to him that his former outlook was wrong. But by having them make him disillusioned as well

In practical terms, this means that the subsequent events must make him feel that he can no longer trust those he formerly worked with or loved. In turn, the event leaves him little option but to go down a path he did not initially want to pursue.

Example – The Jedi Council Reject Anakin As A Master

In Episode III, Chancellor Palpatine recommends that Anakin be made a Master of the Jedi Council. However, when Anakin goes before the council, the council make him a member but refuse to make him a Master.

Anakin is outraged by this. He does not understand why they have made this unprecedented decision. “How can you be on the council and not be a Master?” he asks (quite justifiably). The council fail to answer his question. Worse, they treat him with contempt; in part, due to Anakin’s close relationship with Palpatine which they don’t like.

The Jedi Council’s decision upsets and frustrates Anakin, as he knows he can be more powerful than what he is. As a result, he goes to Palpatine to complain about it. (It is then that Palpatine manipulates the vulnerable Anakin by telling him about the powers of the Sith and how they can save Padmé from death.)

how to corrupt your main character - anakin at the Jedi coumcil
Anakin does not take his rejection from the Jedi Council lightly. In fact, it makes him seriously disillusioned with everything he previously stood for.

Step 4 – The Act Of No Return

The final act on the corruption journey must take place at the climax of the narrative to ensure that the main character cannot turn back. He has made his decision and become everything he set out not to be at the start of the story.

Example 1 – Michael Corleone Becomes The New Godfather

After deciding that no-one will ever betray him again, Michael arranges the murder of all his traitors and rivals with shocking ruthlessness. Then, he goes back to his wife and straight up lies to her face, saying he had nothing to do with the murders. His wife then leaves the room as his henchman come in. They call him ‘Godfather’ in reverence for who he is now.

(It is hard to say exactly when the act of no return takes place for Michael. It can be the murders he orchestrates, his lying to his wife, or when his men call him ‘Godfather.’ Any one of these suffice. In my mind, it is the first: the murders. It tells everyone – from his men, his enemies, and the audience – about the thug Michael has become. That anyone who crosses him or the Corleone clan will pay a high price.)

how to corrupt your main character - they call him Godfather now
Michael’s men kissing his hand and calling ‘Godfather,’ as they used to do to his father, Vito Corleone.

Example 2 – Anakin Becomes Darth Vader

In Episode III, Master Mace Windu (Samuel L Jackson) has outpowered Chancellor Palpatine in a duel. He has the Sith Lord on the floor, at his mercy. But then Anakin arrives on the scene. Believing that killing Palpatine is not ‘the Jedi way’ and that Palpatine has the power to save Padmé, Anakin strikes down Master Mace.

Subsequently, Anakin kneels before Palpatine, who proclaims that Anakin will henceforth be known as Darth Vader. Then, Anakin goes on to slaughter some innocent younglings and the Separatists in a spree of violent rage to bring ‘peace to the Galaxy.’ This is prior to being defeated (but not killed, oddly) in a lightsabre duel with his former master, Obi-Wan Kenobi. Wounded, Palpatine rescues him and gives him his (black, Storm Trooper-esque gear and his) iconic mask.

(Again, it is difficult to say exactly when Anakin turns in these sequences of events. In my opinion, it is when he strikes down Master Windu. Anakin knows exactly what he is doing and the likely consequences of his actions. By striking down Master Windu, he nails his colours to the mast and chooses the Dark Side.)

Thank You

Thank you for reading these two blog post on how to corrupt your main character. I think this is a fascinating topic, and I hope you found these blog posts useful and interesting as well.

Please let me know what you think in the comments. Moreover, if there is a step you feel I have missed out. In addition, if there is another (better) example for turning your main character bad than the two we have discussed in these articles, let me know.


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