To Redeem Our Characters Or Not

The writer who understands redemption is on the border of enduring fiction.

James Scott Bell isn’t just talking about books whose focus is purely on redemption like Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. It is deeper and tied to the Hero’s Journey, no matter what the story is about. Last week we discussed the inner conflict and struggle of our characters. The conflict arises from the plot whereas the struggle is derived from the character’s baggage, which affects how the character will respond to the plot. Redemption happens or doesn’t happen when we have the convergence of the conflict and struggle at a point of no return for our character. Bell says, “Redemption is bound up in choice. The right choice brings about redemption because the wrong choice will leave the character in a worse moral condition.”

It always helps me to have examples to better understand what is being said. Bell gives us some like Braveheart, The Godfather, and Casablanca, but I’ve not seen them enough to get it. So, I tried to come up with some of my own, which I find being analytical about fiction difficult, but after I’ve had kids and watched Cars fifty million times, I start seeing traces of the hero’s journey, other plot devices, and character stereotypes.

See, when Lightening McQueen starts out, he’s this fast car with dreams of being the first rookie to win the Piston Cup. He wants it so bad that he has become self-centered, driven to do what it takes no matter the cost, and because he tried to bend the rules with Mack, he finds himself lost in the middle of nowhere. Of course, we are given glimpses into his character so we can see that he’s not completely cold-hearted like his racing opponent, Chick Hicks. And those of us with young kiddos, we know the rest of the story and how he starts seeing life differently. Then at the end, he is faced with a choice. Does he keep on going, win, and achieve his dreams, or forfeit his claim to the Piston Cup by helping the King, a reigning champion racing his last race?

That is what Bell is talking about here. When we give our characters the opportunity for redemption, the story and characters deepen and brings us along for the ride. They don’t always have to chose the “right” choice, just that they are faced with it and what they do about it determines their outcome.

So what say you? What are some of your favorite stories, movies? What redemptive element did they have, if any?

Also, over at Warrior Writers today, Kristen Lamb, author of We Are Not Alone, talks about fantasy and science fiction and how we sometimes get too carried away with our worldbuilding, mapmaking, gadgets and gizmos. GUILTY as charged. I’m sure readers don’t really care if the moons and high tides line up correctly, right? Anyway, awesome read about keeping the main thing, the main thing: The story and the characters we fall in love with.

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