I've approached a point in my story wherein one of my characters has just been broken out of a short stretch in prison (around a week).

Seconds before being captured, he watched a good friend of his get killed, and spends a significant amount of the week grieving his loss.

Whilst incarcerated, he was beaten, threatened with torture, and shown that he is not nearly as clever as he thinks he has been.

As an originally arrogant and self-assured character, he has been sufficiently broken down that he is suffering emotionally (not entirely broken down, he is still mostly the same, but he has come to doubt himself and his abilities). At this point the villain of the story, who he had never met before, speaks to him to offer him a job.

The villain presents himself as a reasonable person, and explains to him that their ultimate goals align. He sets out his particular view points and asks the character to think about joining him.

After this exchange he is later broken out by his friends, and they proceed on with their original journey. He begins to feel different however, and is beginning to doubt himself and his view of the world.

This character will eventually leave his friends and their pursuit of the quest. He will originally head out on his own to rediscover himself and his priorities, but he will end up after some time allying with the villain.

My issue is that I can't figure out a way to instrument his departure. His friends understand what he has been through whilst in prison, so they would not be unreasonably antagonistic towards him in order to make him leave them so abruptly.

I don't want him to immediately believe the villain is right and go and ally with him, I just want him to come to the conclusion that his friends might be wrong, and refuses to follow them anymore.

How can I realistically create a reason for this character to eventually snap, abandon his friends and set out on his own?

This would preferably come about rather quickly after being busted from jail, but if that is too unreasonable and there is a way for it to be more realistic but would take longer, that's fine.

  • There are several ways, but I think you first want to decide if you want sane or insane. And I think you also might decide ahead of time if said character's moral compass is forever tarnished or if there will be some other form of penitence.
    – Stu W
    Jan 18, 2016 at 16:56

6 Answers 6


I think this part is a problem:

His friends understand what he has been through whilst in prison, so they would not be unreasonably antagonistic towards him in order to make him leave them so abruptly.

People are usually too much in their own heads to be that understanding of someone else's experiences. And why make them so understanding if it just causes you problems?

Also, when you have a group of people who think one thing or act in one way ("his friends understand..."), it's often a sign that you need to think more about the individuals in the group and differentiate their views.

For example, maybe...

  • Jimmy idolizes the hero, misses him, and wants him back. (Your hero used to enjoy this adulation, but now it feels meaningless.)

  • Will K is impatient to have your hero back in the gang. There are a
    few schemes he's had to put on hold. (And your hero suddenly starts
    to see that he's just a pawn in Will's plans.)

  • Butterball is apprehensive about your hero getting out. While your
    hero was in prison, Butterball has moved into the number two position, and he doesn't want to lose his status. (Your hero used to see Butterball as a joke, but now sees a threat from him.)

I don't know if this is the type of group you have in mind, but whatever it is, try to work out the details of each person's feelings. I think you will then see various ways to move forward.

  • I get what you mean. I can have the other characters understand that he's been through a rough experience without really getting how it's taken its toll on him and unintentionally antagonizing him. Then as time goes on he begins to realize that they just don't get him, escalating into a confrontation that causes them to air their grievances and eventually make him leave. Simply allowing him to realize their obvious flaws after his prison experience should be sufficient in making him question their motives (self-involvement and mistrust as you suggest actually tie into my characters already). Feb 1, 2016 at 16:11

There might be something deeper than the story. Perhaps something has bothered him as a unanswered question for most of his adult life. It's not been life changingly significsnt, but it has bothered him to some extent.

Perhaps the villain knowingly or unknowingly tapped into this frustration and gave him hope for the first time that the question could be answered. Maybe he didn't think that the question was that important, but having the opportunity for an answer becomes more and more tempting. He may be completely unaware how badly he's starting to want what the villain has to offer him.

It doesn't have to literally be a question. It's just somehow the villain spoke to him about something in a way no one else ever has about something that's always been in the back of his mind, waiting to be resolved.

I'm currently on the other end of things. I have a character who is a master manipulator. She dos it so well that she doesn't even realize that she's doing it. She's very observant and has an uncanny knack at figuring out what motivates people. She uses her knowledge to get people not only do her bidding, but be happy about it, perhaps even beg her to allow them to do what they may have refused to do otherwise. I think persuasive people all do this in some level.


I'm assuming that after getting bust out of jail the authorities will be looking for him? He could have a close call with getting caught amd then tell his friends it's better they split up as he doesn't want them to get caught and go to prison as well. If you don't want the brush with the law he could just tell them that anyway and leave, or leave them a note and sneak off in the night. It doesn't have to be complicated.


Maybe the protagonist feels bitter because his friends hadn't rescued him sooner, perhaps? That bitterness could turn into resentment. Maybe he felt abandoned by them when he was captured.

  • +1. Perhaps one of his comrades tipped off the authorities, and he finds out. He tells his friends, but they don't believe him, or they do believe him but decide -- for any of a variety of reasons -- to not punish the comrade.
    – Wayne
    Oct 6, 2020 at 21:46

There's a thing called Stockholm syndrome, where one gains sympathy towards his/her captives. Perhaps it is something in his/her backstory, or maybe he/she has been kept in captivity for so long. Maybe you can implement this with your character.

Another way to go is to have a previous truth stated by this potential-darksider or one of his/her friends that (s)he admires which gets proven false by the villain. This can be a gateway revelation to help the potential-darksider start doubting his/her teammates and/or self.

Maybe something his/her friends do gets misinterpreted, and the character, with his/her morals unclear, will challenge one of his/her friends and have small arguments with them.

Maybe it starts out with small doubts/ second-guessing that then get proven right after something bad happens to the character and his/her friends after he/she is broken out of prison.

Maybe this can serve as an epiphany point for your character--that his/her morals, ideas, whatever-- aren't getting the job done.

However, use internal monologue to help the character logically reach his/her decision, and don't forget to use subtle foreshadowing in it.

Also, check out Star Wars episode I-III. In them, the reasons for Anakin's turn are foreshadowed at an ever-increasing frequency.

Good luck, and make sure to tell us how you finally do it.

  • holy cats, surely there's something else, ANYTHING else, you can suggest for an example of foreshadowing other than the Star Wars prequels?! Jan 27, 2016 at 12:07
  • Let's see... Frodo from The Lord of the Rings, Harry's dad from Spider-Man, Spider-Man himself from Spider-Man, Boromir from The Lord of the Rings, Murtagh from Eragon... Don't worry. I have more than just SW examples. Jan 28, 2016 at 11:47

Why does he have to snap?

Secondly, I wonder if they are comrades who share a common goal or friends who support each others' goals. This is kinda important, since your character is questioning the life path he is taking.

I think I would make them have a fight. The character gets beaten in the forest, then a black arrives, his friend pushes him toward the bear, he is eaten by the black bear, and left for dead. But he actually survives, minus the left underarm and his right eye. He once learnt from his prison mate that you should shove your arm in the throat of a bear if he attacks you. Then after recuperating three weeks in a abandoned lodge he travels his own path. From there on his thoughts and feelings can go either way.

Have a good one!

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.