Without even trying, I've lived on the edge of a knife.
When I play with fire,
I don't want to get myself burned.
To thine own self be true,
So I think that it's time for a turn....
Tropes about characters shifting on the morality axis, redemption and corruption.
See Sorting Algorithm Of Face Heel Turning for a sheet of factors figuring into the probability of a turn.
This is a sub-index of Betrayal Tropes. Spoilers abound.
- Adaptational Villainy
An adaptation of a work makes a character more villainous than they were in the source material.
- Bait the Dog
A character set up to be the more 'charming' type of evil is revealed to be much nastier than their initial impression.
- Became Their Own Antithesis
The character has changed so much that an alignment shift is the logical conclusion of his Character Development.
- Being Tortured Makes You Evil
A character who undergoes prolonged torture gives up on their ideals and morality and joins Team Evil.
- Beware the Nice Ones (sometimes)
A gentle, sweet, or polite character shows a nasty side.
- Break the Cutie (sometimes)
Destroying The Pollyanna's optimism just might turn them evil.
- Came Back Wrong (sometimes)
An alignment change can be one of the ways in which the resurrected character is now "wrong".
- Can't Take Criticism (sometimes)
A character who resents those who point out his flaws may double down and become even worse.
- Character Derailment
Either, technically, but good to evil is more common because it's more of a surprise.
- Chronic Villainy
All attempts at a genuine HeelFace Turn are unsuccessful.
- Create Your Own Villain
The Hero was liable for a character becoming evil.
- Corrupt Church
A once Saintly Church becomes bad.
- Corrupt the Cutie
The gentle, sweet, and kind character begins a slow creep toward the dark side, losing what made them appealing in the process.
- Darker and Edgier
A "gritty" reboot turns a formerly strait-laced hero more grey and Anti Heroish.
- Derailing Love Interests (sometimes)
The author turns Bob evil in order to facilitate Alice's relationship with Charlie (see Demonization).
- Despair Event Horizon (sometimes)
A character abandons their ethics because they've lost all hope.
- Dirty Cop
A cop turns against the people they swore to protect and serve.
- Drunk on the Dark Side
Evil is just so orgasmic that a character can't get enough.
- Drunk with Power
A normally level-headed character gets a taste of power and becomes a Jerkass.
- Et Tu, Brute?
A hero's loved ones, particularly their friends, have all turned their backs on them.
- Evil Former Friend
A hero's best friend is now his worst enemy.
- FaceHeel Turn
The general trope for any morality switch from good to evil.
- FaceMonster Turn
Being forced to turn evil by factors beyond one's own free will.
- FaithHeel Turn
A character crosses the Despair Event Horizon after learning that their religious beliefs are false or mistaken.
- Fake Defector
Appearing to go evil (or good) without a real morality change.
- Fallen Hero
A once-respected hero turns evil, which often sets up a Cry for the Devil.
- Forced into Evil
A character does evil deeds because someone or something else is giving them no other choice.
- Good Girl Gone Bad
A female character goes from good to bad going through some hard experiences.
- Go Mad from the Revelation
A character driven insane because they saw something humans were not meant to see often loses their morality in the process.
- He Who Fights Monsters
Mentally steeling yourself to fight evil might destroy your ethics.
- If You Kill Him, You Will Be Just Like Him
A character will not kill their enemies because that would make them a killer too.
- If You Taunt Him, You Will Be Just Like Him
A character refuses to get back at a bully or a Jerkass because that would make them no better than the bullies or jerkass.
- Jumping Off the Slippery Slope
A character goes evil very quickly after doing some warned-against but otherwise innocuous thing.
- The Killer in Me
One of the protagonists has been the villain the whole time — which can be as much of a shock to them as to everyone else.
- Knight Templar
An evil character is firmly convinced they're on the side of Good.
- Lawman Gone Bad
A character whose job is to uphold the law goes lawless themselves.
- Love Makes You Evil
Nothing throws off a character's moral compass like the existence of another person for whom they would do anything. (related tropes are Love Makes You Crazy and Green-Eyed Monster).
- Moral Event Horizon
The moment when a character loses the audience's sympathy forever by doing something unforgivably evil.
- Moral Pragmatist
A character does evil because they think it'll help a goal. They'll switch sides if you convince them otherwise.
- More Than Mind Control
A character did something evil because of Brainwashing but they also did it willingly, if only slightly.
- Not Brainwashed
A character did something evil because of "Brainwashing", but then we find out they were acting on their own free will the entire time.
- Not-So-Harmless Villain
A comedic, laughable villain is revealed to be much more threatening than they originally seemed.
- The Paragon Always Rebels
Where even a savior figure can become evil, because of the drama inherent in that.
- Peer Pressure Makes You Evil
When a character's morally shady friends influence them to lower their own moral standards.
- Protagonist Journey to Villain
Surprise! That innocent fellow you were following from the start is now a villain.
- A Pupil of Mine, Until He Turned to Evil
The lament of a mentor figure who had a student who used to be good, but no longer.
- Reforged into a Minion
Forced to abandon your friend? Now the Big Bad has twisted them into his Dragon.
- Revenge Through Corruption
Where a villain gets revenge on a character by making their loved ones evil, insane, and/or under the villain's control.
- Rival Turned Evil
A once-respectable, if persistent, opponent gradually becomes more evil, turning their existing antagonism/competition into something more serious.
- Rival Final Boss
And apart of above, the rival becomes the final obstacle to defeat.
- Rival Final Boss
- Ron the Death Eater
Demonization renders a heroic character evil in order to suit the author's purposes.
- Sudden Sequel Heel Syndrome
A heroic character becomes an outright villain in a sequel to a work.
- Rogue Protagonist
The heroic protagonist of another story is now the antagonist in this one.
- Rogue Protagonist
- Start of Darkness
The tale of a character's slow but inevitable plunge into black villainy. Often this is the backstory of someone we already know as a villain, making his alignment change a Foregone Conclusion.
A normally morally-upright character is shown to be indulging in some evil behavior, but it's just to shock you into buying the issue.
- Then Let Me Be Evil
Treat a character like a villain long enough and they'll decide they might as well become one.
- Took a Level in Jerkass
A once-gentle and kind-hearted character turns into a rude and callous Jerkass.
- Trapped by Gambling Debts
A character is forced into serving the one who holds their debt, often a criminal organization who makes them do their dirty work.
- Used to Be a Sweet Kid
A character was started out as a happy and fun-loving child when they were little, but were corrupted and driven to the dark side as they got older (sometimes being the result of a Freudian Excuse).
- Villain Corner
A character, not quite a Heel yet, is rapidly being pushed in that direction.
- We Used to Be Friends
Two friends become enemies after one of them turns into a Heel.
- What the Hell, Hero?
The story calls the heroic protagonist out for doing something morally shady. Unless they heeds the warning and immediately takes steps to correct their behavior, this is often the first step towards a full FaceHeel Turn.
- With Great Power Comes Great Insanity
A character gains enormous power at the cost of their sanity, which usually means the loss of their morality too.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist
A character has noble goals but takes ignoble actions to accomplish them.
- Who's Laughing Now?
A Butt-Monkey or The Woobie turns evil in order to get respect or take revenge on his tormentors.
- Adopt the Dog
A character with no real stake in the fight takes an interest in Team Good.
- Neutral No Longer
The general trope for any morality switch from neutral to good or neutral to evil.
- Awakening the Sleeping Giant
The heroes or villains do something to arouse the enmity of a powerful but neutral faction.
- Heroic Neutral
A hero who would just as soon be left alone becomes involved in the plot.
- Default to Good
If the plot comes down to whether an unaligned loner will choose Team Good or Team Evil, they will almost always choose Team Good.
- Awakening the Sleeping Giant
A solitary character becomes a member of a group of friends/allies.
- Adaptational Heroism
A nasty character is changed to a good guy in an adaptation.
- Amnesiac Villain Joins the Heroes
A villain working for the heroes and is in the good side only because they forgot their own identity and their past.
- The Atoner
A villainous character turns good in an attempt to make up for the pain they caused while evil.
- Befriending the Enemy
A good character tries to become an evil or antagonistic character's friend to act as an emotional crutch for them and turn them good.
- Being Evil Sucks
An evil character realizes that being evil is making them miserable.
- Break the Haughty
A proud character gets some much-deserved comeuppance and learns humility, becoming a kinder person.
- Comes Great Responsibility
A character gains vast power and then develops a correspondingly large sense of obligation to use it for good.
- Conspiracy Redemption
When a Knight Templarish (or just plain assholish) organization as a whole goes from evil to good, or at least to A Lighter Shade Of Gray.
- Contagious Heroism
When the hero's morality rubs off on his less scrupulous co-worker (contrast Peer Pressure Makes You Evil).
- Curiosity Causes Conversion
"What's the good guy got that makes them so special? I must find out."
- Defeat Means Friendship
The defeat of a villain causes them to change their evil ways, often to take up the heroes' way instead.
- Defeat Means Respect
The defeat of a villain causes them to develop a healthy respect for the hero, even if they don't change their ways.
- Defector from Decadence
When a character defects from Team Evil because they no longer find it satisfying.
- Defends Against Their Own Kind
When a character from usually villainous, powered group X protects members of neutral or good group Y from evil members of group X.
- Deliver Us from Evil
A villain switches to Team Good because she's pregnant and does not want her child to end up like her.
- Diminishing Villain Threat
An ordinary villain has been foiled and humiliated so often that they don't seem all that evil anymore.
- Draco in Leather Pants
The fanbase or an in-universe crowd sees the character as a hero, but it's all in their minds.
- Easily Forgiven
Other characters don't hold the villain's misdeeds against them.
- Even Mooks Have Loved Ones
A villainous underling defects to protect the people they care about.
- Even Evil Has Standards
There are lines even a villain won't cross.
- Face Realization
A supposed villain realizes they're actually a good person.
- Forgiven, but Not Forgotten
The villain is forgiven this time, but they're reminded they won't be if it happens again.
- "Get out of Jail Free" Card
A villain who has reformed is spared the punishment they rightfully deserve for former misdeeds.
- Go and Sin No More
A villain realizes the error of their ways and prepares for punishment from the hero. Instead, the hero lets them go and tells them to atone for what they've done.
- Good Feels Good
A villain learns that being good leads to greater happiness.
- HeelFace Brainwashing
The heroes use mind control or similar devices to turn an evil character good.
- HeelFace Return
A character who left the story as a villain returns as a hero.
- HeelFace Turn
The general trope for any morality switch from evil to good.
- High-HeelFace Turn
If the villain has only one female associate, they will betray them.
- High-HeelFace Turn
- HeelFaith Turn
Religion or a religious experience turns a character from evil to good.
- HeelRace Turn
An entire race of people goes from evil to good.
- Heel Realization
An evil character admits (if only to oneself) that their actions are evil.
- Ignorant Minion
A minion who is clueless about his employer's true villainous nature, and who may jump ship at once when the truth is out.
- In Love with the Mark
"I was sent to destroy you, but I just couldn't do it."
- Jerk-to-Nice-Guy Plot
A protagonist (usually male) starts out as a jerkass, but Character Development forces them to discover how much of a jerk they've been, learning a lesson in humility and kindness.
- Karma Houdini (sometimes)
A villain who escapes the consequences of his villainy might step back and reevaluate his life.
- Kill Me Now, or Forever Stay Your Hand
The hero offers their antagonist a chance to kill them, knowing the other person isn't so far gone as to commit murder.
- Little Brother Is Watching
A villain converts because they don't want someone who looks up to them to also become a villain.
- Love Redeems
The hero's unconditional love for another makes them change their evil ways.
- Defecting for Love
A female character who's on the evil side falls in love with the hero and joins his side.
- Defecting for Love
- Minion with an F in Evil
A Mook who simply doesn't know how to be evil, even if they want to be.
- MookFace Turn
The villain's loyal followers become the hero's loyal allies.
- Mistreatment-Induced Betrayal
The villain's loyal followers defect to the hero after the villain makes it clear they don't care what happens to them.
- Mistreatment-Induced Betrayal
- Monster Adventurers
Creatures who are generally disposable Mooks decide they want the Plot Armor that comes with being a hero.
- Must Make Amends
A character who has done an evil act seeks to make it right.
- My God, What Have I Done?
A character's Heel Realization delivers a weight of remorse, which may drive them toward the path of atonement.
- The Pardon
A character's past misdeeds have all been forgiven and forgotten. Will they decide now is the time to leave their old life and start over as a good person?
- Positive Friend Influence
A character helps their friends to overcome issues and grow as people.
- Power of Trust
After seeing that the hero trust them, the villain decides they want to live up to that faith.
- Predator Turned Protector
A character normally preying on something now chooses to protect them.
- Rape Portrayed as Redemption
Characters who are raped automatically have a change in their behavior.
- Redemption Demotion
A character who is overwhelmingly powerful as a villain becomes merely average as a hero.
- Redemption Earns Life
Convert and live.
- Redemption Equals Affliction
Convert and suffer crippling injury or a huge loss.
- Redemption Equals Death
Convert and die, but at least you won't die evil.
- Death Equals Redemption
The inversion of this trope where a villain dies and is redeemed posthumously
- Death Equals Redemption
- Redemption Equals Sex
Convert and you'll get some.
- Redemption in the Rain
Convert and let the rain metaphorically wash you clean.
- Redemption Promotion
A comedic, ineffectual villain becomes a badass once they start fighting for good.
- Redemption Quest
A former villain accepts an Impossible Task or other difficult quest in hope of earning forgiveness.
- Reformed Bully
A former bully has become a nicer person.
- Reformed, but Not Tamed
A character joins the side of good while retaining his villainous qualities.
- Reformed, but Rejected
A villain seeking redemption finds that no one trusts them.
- Reformed Criminal
A former expert in law-breaking now spends his time catching lawbreakers.
- Regretful Traitor
The betrayer has second thoughts and tries to make amends to those they betrayed.
- Restored My Faith in Humanity
A character who believes that Humans Are Bastards soon comes to the realization that they aren't.
- Rivals Team Up
Two opponents (neither of which may be truly evil) join forces against a more villainous threat.
- Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!
A heroic character listens to what their heart tells them as the morally right decision in order to defect bureaucratic laws.
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here!
A villain's less-evil forces decide the master's evil cause isn't worth dying for.
- SexFace Turn
Sex with the hero converts the villain to the side of good.
- Symbiotic Possession
A demon (or any other sentient force) takes control of a person's body, but the host manages to befriend them, turning them into an ally.
- Tears of Remorse
An evil character's potential for redemption shows when they shed tears over an evil action.
- Took a Level in Kindness
A once cruel and unfriendly character becomes a Nice Guy.
- Villainous BSoD
A villain overcome with the weight of their evil deeds may become a hero to atone for them
- Welcome Back, Traitor
A character who betrayed the team is Easily Forgiven.
- What Is This Thing You Call "Love"?
A villain feels love for the first time and is shaken out of their evil ways.
- White Sheep
A good character has difficulty fitting in with his evil family, and often turns against them.
- Worthy Opponent
When the hero and the villain begin to operate more-or-less from the same side, while remaining rivals.
- Ambiguously Evil
A character appears to be a villain, but has yet to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.
- Awakening the Sleeping Giant
The villains (or heroes) turn a powerful but neutral third party against them.
- Becoming the Mask
A character pretending to be a Face or Heel is no longer pretending.
- Breakup Breakout
Characters who used to be partners split up as one becomes more popular.
- Choosing Neutrality
A good or evil character aligns to the neutral side.
- Easy Evangelism
A character easily converts to a different side.
- Noble Demon
A villain who isn't 'good' but who never goes all that far into evil.
- Temporarily a Villain
Going from hero to villain and back.
The alignment change of an individual character may be caused by (or have repercussions on) their relationship with others.
- Bring Them Around
A hero or villain switching sides needs to convince his underlings to join them.
- Defector from Decadence
A former member of a villainous (or heroic) group switches sides because they no longer enjoy being a member.
- Epiphany Therapy
Allies help a character overcome a personal/psychological issue which is affecting his moral development.
- Evil Is Easy
Will you take the easy and fast way to the top, or the long, hard, and more rewarding way? Evil people will choose the former.
- Face/Heel Double-Turn
A hero turns evil at the same time as a villain turns good.
- Freak Out!
Suffering a permanent alignment change due to unbearable mental/physical/psychological stress.
- Freudian Excuse
Where the turn is caused by a traumatic childhood incident. Letting it go unchecked tends to leads to a FaceHeel Turn, treating it tends to lead to a HeelFace Turn.
- Going Native
A character adopts the customs and morality of a group which they were originally sent to infiltrate.
- Hazy Feel Turn
Switching sides in a situation where neither side is particularly good or evil.
- HeelFace Revolving Door
Unable to decide whether you're good or evil.
- Heritage Face Turn
Switching sides in a situation where one realizes they are related to the opposing side through birth or heritage.
- Karma Meter
"By kicking that dog, you earned 20 Villain Points!"
- Literal Change of Heart
Effecting morality change by removing a bad heart and replacing it with a good one (or vice versa).
- Mirror Morality Machine
Applied Phlebotinum changes a character to the opposite of what they were before.
- Morality Adjustment
Becoming more or less of a hero/villain without making an alignment change.
- Motive Decay
A villain gradually discards the reasons why they became evil in the first place, either losing their sympathy if they keep at it or give up their villainy after no longer caring about their Freudian Excuse
- My Species Doth Protest Too Much
If Bob the Spikey comes from a race of Chaotic Evil beast-men, expect Bob to be a pacifist who rescues kittens from trees.
- Sudden Humility
A character suddenly finds themselves in a difficult position another is routinely in and realizes the hardships it involves.
- Sudden Principled Stand
A character watches his associates and superiors slip further into evil and darkness until finally, decides he's had enough.
- "They Still Belong to Us" Lecture
Villains attempt to drive a wedge between a reformed villain and his heroic allies.
- Tomato in the Mirror
"The villain was me all along!"
- Took a Level in Cynic
The Hero becoming pessimistic can result in becoming an Anti-Hero, or having a full-on FaceHeel Turn. Vice-versa with the villains.
- Trauma Conga Line
When a hero or villain has so many things go wrong at once that they lose faith in their old ways and explore 'the other side'.
- Wild Card
"What side am I on, you ask? The side I'm always on: mine."
- Your Tradition Is Not Mine
The character actively resists the tradition into which they are born and raised in favor of their own path.
- Character Check
A villain (or hero) who slowly drifted towards the opposite alignment ostentatiously reverts to their original persona in an attempt by the storywriter to show that they have not officially switched sides.
- Enemy Mine
Even though the villain came and saved the day, it was only a temporary thing not caused by a change of heart.
- Easy Road to Hell
In universes with this in effect, it's impossible not to be defined as "evil".
- Falsely Reformed Villain A villain appears to have reformed, but it's actually a cover for their latest scheme.
- The Farmer and the Viper
A character is set up to be redeemed through kindness or The Power of Trust, but it's shown that it didn't work at all.
- Go-Karting with Bowser
("Hey, Skeletor - this is He-Man. Wanna go to the mall this afternoon?")
- HeelFace Door-Slam
The villain wanted to reform, but it was too late.
- HeelFace Mole: A villain fakes their conversion; the inverted Fake Defector.
- Heroic Heelization Speech
The hero admits that they don't care if their actions are evil.
- Ignored Epiphany
"My God, What Have I Done?... Actually, come to think of it, I've done nothing."
- Kick the Son of a Bitch
A character does something nasty to show how evil they are, but it falls flat because the victim seriously deserved it.
- Neutrality Backlash
A character suffers the ramifications of choosing neither sides.
- Obligatory War-Crime Scene
The heroes Kick the Dog (or worse) in an inexcusable way without experiencing a HeelFace Turn, because War Is Hell and even The Hero can't maintain their goodness throughout it.
- Post-Mortem Conversion
A character who died a villain is remembered as a hero.
- Redemption Failure
A formerly-evil character almost reaches redemption... and then stuff happens that forces them back into villainy against their will.
- Redemption Rejection
A villain refuses to be redeemed.
- Rejected Apology
A character's heart-felt apology is rejected by another.
- Slowly Slipping Into Evil
Gradually becoming evil without a marked alignment change.
- Villainy Discretion Shot
A character is saved from Bait the Dog or worse because their evil acts are glossed over by Rule of Empathy.