Redemption Arcs: the big debate

There’s a hot take circulating lately that “some villains don’t deserve to have a redemption arc.”

But I don’t believe this.

No villain deserves a redemption arc.

But every villain could have one, if they tried, if they worked towards it, if they’re written well in both their understanding of their wrongs and their dedication to being a better person.

No villain deserves a redemption arc because change isn’t about deserving heroism. It’s about seeing your faults for what they are and deciding to be better even when it’s hard and it hurts.

The entire point of a redemption arc is that the villain doesn’t deserve it, and that the villain understands and accepts thatProper redemption arcs are those in which the villain does good not because they’re trying to gain anything for themselves but because they realize it’s the right fucking thing to do and they don’t care if it’s the death of them as long as it saves someone else.

And using the word deserve in reference to a redemption arc is just a mess all on it’s own, because it acts like redemption is some some fun jaunt to a place of happiness and cookies which all villains would love to go if the writer gave them the option. But it’s not.

Redemption is a trail. A crucible. Whether emotionally or physically or both, it hurts. 

If a redemption arc doesn’t require suffering — more suffering than villainy did — to reach the final place of happiness then that’s just bad writing.

It’s called an arc for a reason, because it takes time, and effort, and change.

So yeah, some villains (all villains) don’t deserve their sins to be suddenly erased. But if a villain sees their sins for what they are and makes a genuine effort to change then fucking good on them. No one is too far gone unless they chose to be. Everyone who continues to be ‘too far gone’ is so because they are choosing to be, whether they understand that yet or not. This is life. Let literature mirror it.

And always remember: a well-written redemption arc validates the victims, not the villain.

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