I’m working on a Fallen Hero plotline for my fantasy where the MC descends from hating the idea of what she could become to embracing it and essentially turning into the villain of her own story. So I have some questions about that fallen hero/hero to villain plot and doing it successfully.
Are sad endings acceptable?
Can it all end in failure?
Are there elements that are required to make the story succeed even if the hero becomes the villain?
Technically stating, it is your story, so it’s allowed to end the way you want it too - it doesn’t have to be a textbook Hollywood ending.
Honestly, I think a story is more compelling if it does end up in total failure. I suppose it adds to the overall flair of a story.
For this to work, something large/traumatic has to happen to them. Your MC has to think there’s no other way of dealing with the situation other than to embrace an unsteady state of mind. In other words, you need an excellent climax for the fallen hero plotline to work effectively.
Yes, though to some extent it depends on the tone of the story. If it was very light and fluffy and made an abrupt shift, it wouldn’t be very satisfying. The idea is that the reader ought to be aware that there’s some possibility of a sad ending - even if it’s not where they think the story’s heading for most of it. As long as it doesn’t feel like everything’s ended in failure as a cheap tear-jerker, it’s fine.
There are definitely a couple, I think. The first is strong characterization. When the protagonist is coached as the hero, they’ve usually got heaps of heroic qualities to go along with it. Which is perfectly well, except that you’d not buy it if this completely upstanding person suddenly goes rogue and turns ‘evil’. People change, after all, but usually not beyond recognition. In the best fallen hero arcs I’ve read, the character’s central traits don’t change - it’s their values that shift. The character needs to still be recognizable when they go bad, if you want the reader to stay emotionally invested in them. And you’ll need to do excellent character work to keep the reader keep rooting for them throughout the whole thing.
The other thing is that the transition from hero to villain must be smooth and make sense. In the best hero to villain (or even just hero to anti-hero) arcs that I’ve read, there’s no abrupt switch flipped between the two. The hero makes their way down a slippery slope, whether it’s justifying ever more brutal action in pursuit of their original goal or seeing the falseness of the ‘good’ side and starting sympathizing with the ‘bad’. Often they won’t realize they’ve crossed the line for quite a while.
This last is a thing I’ve personally noticed and liked (so not at all a thing needed for a good fallen hero arc) - having another secondary character who represents the actual good in the story, once the MC’s gone bad. Having this can keep readers from considering the MC a mere anti-hero.