How to turn a bad guy into a good guy, with Damon Salvatore

Posted: February 6, 2013 in How to... (Writing Tips), TV Shows, Writing
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Here’s the next post in this series where I discuss TV shows and movies and the knowledge that we can gain from watching them. We can apply that knowledge to our writing. As always, I never pretend to be an expert. I just like exploring my own thoughts on the matter as I write these blog posts! I welcome all comments and would love to hear what you think about this topic.

Make sure you check out my previous post, titled, “How to write a dynamic character arc, with Caroline Forbes.”

It’s been a couple of months since I’ve written anything in this series, but it’s always been one of the more popular ones, and I figured I should probably get back into it! Not only is it fun to discuss our favorite characters and see how their stories can relate to our own writing, but I really just have a good time talking about them in general.

Especially Damon Salvatore.

See, I figured something else out. You guys like it when I talk about Damon. He is consistently (I may as well just use the world “always” here) the top search term people use to find my blog. The previous post I wrote about him (“How to write about guilt, with Damon Salvatore”) was the first post in this series, and still gets hits each and every day.

And, hey. Who am I to argue with statistics?

Besides. Just look at him.

Damon Salvatore TVD

Damon is, of course, one half of the Salvatore brothers on The Vampire Diaries. When we first meet him, Damon is not a good guy. He kills people without remorse. He revels in the fact that he’s a vampire. He manipulates people. And he does everything he can to steal Elena away from Stephan, just to get one up on him.

But here’s the thing. Damon slowly becomes a good guy. We’re into the fourth season now, and he’s still not quite there. Sure, he’s loads better than he was back in season 1, but he still messes up. He still goes out of his way to annoy people. He still tries to take Elena away from Stefan. Except now he’s not doing it to get one up on his brother. Now he’s doing it because he loves Elena.

Now he cares about her.

And that’s the key. You can turn any bad character into a good character by giving them something to care about. It doesn’t matter what they’ve done in their past, as long as they’re willing to change and as long as they feel remorse. For Damon, the catalyst to his change was Elena.

It happened subtly. You saw him stop trying to manipulate her. You saw him (mostly) stop killing people. You saw him do things or not do things because he knew what she would say if she knew what he was up to. You saw him start actively being a better person, because he knew it was what she wanted (even if she didn’t know it yet herself!).

And in our writing, these subtleties must also be present. Girls love the bad boy, and I’ve read plenty of books with an MC like this. But the change can’t happen all at once. For most of these tragic, damaged characters, they’ve been living their lives like this for years. Most likely since they were kids.

I’m sorry, but no girl is going to make a guy drop his personality and change at a moment’s notice just because he has feelings for her. He’s going to screw up. And he’s going to keep screwing up. And he’s going to screw up again, until he figures out that he actually wants to change because it’s not only the best for the person he’s in love with, but also for himself.

It’s a beautiful story arc for any character – guy or girl. Damon is a perfect example of it because he’s still not all the way there. He’s not Stefan, not someone who automatically thinks of others and tries to do the best thing for everyone just because it happens to be the best thing for everyone. Damon isn’t as selfish as he once was, but he often doesn’t care what happens to a majority of the other characters, so long as Elena is okay.

He’s flawed, but he’s allowed to be. He should be. You don’t go from being a merciless vampire who doesn’t respect pretty much any human life to a fuzzy bunny of a vampire overnight. Life doesn’t work that way, and art is an imitation of life. We must reflect the flawed, complex, contradictory nature of humans (or vampires!) in our writing in order for it to be realistic.

Is your MC a bad guy (or girl) gone good? How did you pull it off? Do you like the new Damon, or did you like him better in season 1?

  1. I will take Damon in any season. I love it when he fights with Stefan. I want him to kick his brother’s rear. And I love the soft side of him too. When he told Elena to come to him, I just knew he was speaking to me. Damon is the favorite Salvatore brother for a reason…

  2. I’d take a “flawed” Damon any day over his “Mr Perfect” brother. I’ve always sensed that the Damon we saw was real…bone deep real. He’s a “what you see is what you get” kind of guy. Stefan, on the other hand…has always seemed afraid of himself, to be himself…completely uncomfortable in his own skin and a bit of a pretentious hypocrite. 🙂

    • Karen Rought says:

      I completely agree! I liked Stefan for about the first three episodes and then I totally got over him. I like how his heart is in the right place, but he’s so boring. Especially compared to Damon. Even by the time they tried to make him more interesting by including the Ripper storyline, I just didn’t care.

  3. EM Castellan says:

    To make a character believable and likeable, whatever his baggage, have him love someone and possibly be loved in return. That’s the advice I picked up years ago while watching Buffy episodes commented by Joss Whedon… His theory about Spike was that we loved him because he loved Drusilla (and later Buffy). Great post Karen! Always nice to look at those Damon pics 🙂

    • Karen Rought says:

      I think that’s absolutely true, especially with Spike. Because even though he was the bad guy way back when he was with Drusila, you could tell he was different. Being capable of love made him more human, and that made him more relatable. You couldn’t help but feel for him when he was hurting. Ahhh, Spike. I’m getting Buffy feels now. Must go look up pictures of him. Be back later. 😉

  4. […] Make sure you check out my previous post, titled, “How to turn a bad guy into a good guy, with Damon Salvatore.” […]

  5. […] Make sure you check out my previous post, titled, “How to have a massively intelligent character without alienating your audience, with Charlie Eppes.” […]

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