Do you have any advice for something like the Dirty Dozen or Suicide Squad, where villains are forced to be heroes?

You guys always give great advice.

Thank you,

Dave L 

Hey Dave, great to hear from you again!

Yep, we sure do! Beyond all our normal storytelling advice, the trick with the Villains As Heroes trope is to be careful how evil you make them, because your story is going to have to pay that off in some capacity. 

The easiest solution is to have a character with villainous aesthetics, but who never really does anything villainous. That’s what happens with Harley Quinn in Birds of Prey. Sure, we know she’s theoretically done bad things in the past, but we don’t see any of it or go into any detail. In the present, we mostly see her do heroic things with a chaotic attitude. She saves a kid and beats up goons who work for a villain far worse than she is. When she breaks into the police station, she uses specifically non-lethal ammo.* 

If you’re going to have your villainous hero actually do bad things, you have to deal with the bad karma that creates. Sometimes this means a redemption arc. The villain starts off only doing good deeds because they’re forced to and sneaks in some evil when they can. Then, you have an arc where the villain actually decides to be good and does something to make up for their past misdeeds. 

Or your villain might simply have a bad end all together. This could be as simple as getting exploded after the mission, or it could represent a failed turning point where they’ve been trying to be good, but just can’t manage it, so they return to being evil and we’re all sad. Whatever you do, there are two main things to avoid: 

  1. Don’t have your villainous hero do a bunch of evil stuff and then act like it’s all resolved at the end because they’ve chosen to join Team Good for real. That’s just gonna make people hate the character. 
  2. Don’t make someone else pay for the villainous hero’s bad deeds and then act like it’s all resolved. Doctor Horrible does that by having Penny die as a consequence of Billy’s choices, and it’s bad!    

Hope that answers your question, and good luck with your writing! 

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