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Character Alignment Shifts: Best Practices

Character development and growth, may require your character to switch alignments. There may even be an instance when your character needs to shift temporarily. I will go over how to properly shift your character's alignment so it feels like natural growth.

First, I would like to point out a few things that you SHOULDN'T DO.

The alignment chart (above) has two axis, the moral and the legal. I have gone over each in other posts, so if you haven't read them yet, I recommend you do.

Character growth needs to be realistic. A Lawful Good (LG) character can't wake up one morning and decide to be Chaotic Evil (CE) for no reason. Even with an inciting incident to motivate the character, they would realistically only move one alignment at a time (i.e. Lawful good to neutral good). If you want your character to start off as LG and end the book as CE, then you need to spend the entirety of the book moving them in that direction. They need to fight the descent, while at the same time justifying their ideology and actions.

This is where the power of the True Neutral (TN) comes in. Because they are adjacent to every other alignment, it is easier for them to shift.

If we use the example of a Lawful Good turning into a Chaotic Evil, then a natural progression would potentially be this:
- Something traumatic happens to the character. This could be loss of a love one. Personal misfortune or they are witnessing the destruction or threat of destruction of the system.
-LG characters believe whole heartedly in the system, so they will try to work within the confines of that system. To get them to shift, you need to decide if you want them to continue to believe in the system, or slowly start to work outside of it, or if they make their own system.
- If you decide they still believe in the system, then you need to start stripping away their morality. Remember, there are things that are completely "legal" but may be morally wrong. Your character will start doing those things.
- If you decide your character will start to leave the system, they need to start justifying why they are breaking the law. This can be as simple as Vigilantism, the system would not bring them justice, so they are going out and doing it themselves.
-If your character decides they want to make their own system, then they need a personal code. This will go against society, but their personal rules will reign supreme. Think of the punisher, who has no problem killing "bad" guys, but refuses to kill any he deems "innocent".
-If you don't want your character to become a vigilante, or completely disregarding the law, you can always have them get in with organized crime. They might not actually commit crime, but they may assist the organization in other ways, in return for the character's goals being met. For example, you work at the bank, and you give the criminals the schematics for the building and access to the security cameras. Or you make an appointment to speak with an influential person, drawing them away from the office while the criminals sneak in and plant evidence, or bugs. You get the idea.
-Once you have shifted your character's alignment either morally or legally, you do it again. But this time, you need to focus on their internal conflicts while simultaneously throwing more external conflict their way. They are trying to reach a goal, but they're starting to realize that it wasn't as easy as they thought it would be. Plans aren't going as they should.
- What happens if your character gets caught? Are they willing to accept punishment, or will they do whatever is necessary to achieve their goal? This pushes your character further into another alignment.
-Are they willing to break more laws? Are they willing to do bad things to get what they want? How far is too far?
-What happens when someone close to the character is punished for your character's actions?

-The end goal of CE, usually happens when the character is completely disillusioned, and is willing to do anything to get back at the people who have wronged them. While they may still have their original goal, it has evolved. What started out as getting justice for a crime committed against them, may have them not only seeking revenge on the perpetrator, but wanting to dismantle the entire justice system.

-Remember, no matter how far they have fallen, everyone believes they are the hero in their own story. They think they are doing the world a favor by dismantling the system, because they believe it to be corrupt or tyrannical. Even if that's not true, they believe it is. They set out to prove they are right, and in doing so, show how evil they've become.
-For example, your character knows a politician is a pedophile, so your character sets them up to expose them. However, your character was still the one who procured the child.
- In "The Dark Knight" The joker attempts to turn Harvey Dent to evil, setting him up to kill the person responsible for the death of his girlfriend. If Harvey had gone through with it, then all of his convictions would have been thrown out, all those criminals set free. The joker manipulated Dent, and gave him the tools necessary to enact his revenge. In the process of exposing how "horrible people truly are" the Joker would have gotten criminals back on the street.

Remember a good character shift is gradual and involves a lot of conflict, both internal and external. You need to justify every action. Slowly changing their ideology is a great way to help your character justify their actions. A normal individual pays attention to what affects them. Someone that doesn't own a vehicle, and always takes public transportation, isn't going to pay too much attention to how much gas costs. But as soon as they buy a car, they'll pay attention.

You need to do the same with your character. They need to suddenly take an interest in whatever affected them. Have them start watching the news more. Then switch their views from mainstream media to fringe media. Then conspiracy channels. They are going to become obsessive and fanatic in their thinking. They will try to find others that feed their beliefs and help them justify their actions.

Going from LG to CE is a big jump, and takes time. However, moving your character temporarily, or to the next alignment doesn't require as much effort. Usually the inciting incident is enough. Your characters will feel justified to bend the laws, or do a few bad things in order to achieve their aims. Make sure you add internal conflict to make it more real. If a law abiding citizen starts breaking the law, they will be uncomfortable and question if they are doing the right thing. The same could be said for doing things that are technically legal, but feel wrong.

I hope this helps! Remember, if you have questions/comments, please feel free to email me!

Happy Writing Friends!
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