Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Glory of Redemption

Everyone loves a redemption story. From Samson in the Bible, to Darth Vader or Scarlett O'Hara, all of us likes it when bad guys turn good. Even 'Bad Boy' characters have a rubbing off of their rough edges, making them more human.

What is it that makes these stories so appealing?

I think it comes from the very human reality of knowing that we all make mistakes. At some point, we'll screw up and want a chance for a do-over. A mulligan. A chance for someone to pat us on the back and good-naturedly say, 'Huh. That kinda sucked. That one didn't count. Give it another shot.'

One of this summer's major blockbusters surrounds the conflict that arises from a redemption story.

"But wait," you say. "You just said people love redemption stories."

That's right, but after the bad guy turns good, there's still the subject of PAYING for all the terrible things he did making that grab for power.

Bucky Barnes and Captain America
Captain America: Civil War (at least according to the trailers) begins after Captain America has spent unlimited energy redeeming his lovable old friend, Bucky Barnes. See, Captain America and Bucky lost track of each other during World War II, but collided later when Hydra turns Bucky into an assassin (Captain America: Winter Soldier).

So now, Bucky is saved.


Unfortunately, Bucky was a bad guy. He's killed a lot of people. He's done a lot of bad things. And most legal systems still require a degree of justice be met for all the havoc bad guys cause. You wouldn't want Bucky to just go free, right?


But he was brainwashed? He's changed his ways? Think of it this way, if Adolf Hitler had been brainwashed, had a sudden change of conscience, should he be allowed to go free?

These gray areas and moral dilemmas are the spaces where writers thrive and where audiences love to be. What's gonna happen? Will the newly redeemed be shown mercy? Will mercy rob justice? Can the good guy, who was the bad guy, show the sincerity of his actions? Even if he succeeds, will he pay for his actions, as in the film Sommersby?

The story possibilities are infinite.

And So...
How are you using redemption in your stories?
What is your favorite redemption story?


  1. I think often it's about making all of our characters compelling, even if they're villains. But "unreliable narrator" fiction has been HUGE lately--Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train. Seems when it's done with just the right touch, it rocks people's worlds!

  2. I think that's because we all crave redemption. That's why people turn to God - they seek it, need it. So we identify with those stories.
    I've never written a true bad character, but I had one that appeared to be on that side who redeemed himself for his actions.


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