Readers have the advantage of being able to live a thousand lives through the proxies of our protagonists. Their choices serve as mirrors to our own, reflecting our fears of failure and damnation, but also our hope for redemption and a better future. Good fiction is based on struggle and empathy, and I believe that it is the realization of our own flaws that accounts for the popularity of the redemption archetype. After all, if there is a chance for a better future for a character that has gone so much further down the dark path, there must be hope for the reader as well.
Most villains never intended to divest themselves of their morals and join the evil league of evil full time. Instead, it is the little choices and justifications that not only define our past, but also our personality and future. Though many books I have read share this theme, it was my first meeting of Weight Watchers that brought the lesson home. I have been overweight for most of my life. Like many, I have struggled with a number of different diets, exercise routines, and other tricks to bring my weight under control. It wasn’t until I attended that meeting that I realized what my problem really was. You see, no one gets fat overnight. Instead, our choices build up, changing how we think and perceive the world. Once the bad habits and destructive thought patterns are cemented, they are hard to recognize, let alone break. One day you look back and wonder how it all happened. My fight against obesity has been my personal redemption story and has taught me several important aspects that I have carried into my writing.
Though fiction often simplifies and exaggerates the redemption archetype for the sake of the story, redemption stories need be neither big, nor flashy. It is rare for a single pivotal moment to decide the difference between redemption and damnation. Instead, real redemption is about making the right choices in the moments that count and struggling every day to break habits. However, the pivotal moment of choice is often essential in a character story to provide the climatic levels of story tension and symbolism the reader needs to achieve their emotional payoff. The difference in how to approach the issue largely depends on what kind of story is being told.
Redemption stories have a big emotional payoff because a reader’s empathy for the character makes us see the good in them, especially when they can’t see it in themselves. Humans are flawed. We make destructive choices and struggle with the consequences. We hope that someone will see the good in us even when our light seems to fade. In the end, redemption is about admitting your flaws, being cognizant of your weaknesses and struggling against what is easy, comfortable and habitual. Redemption is a process, not an end point, and redemption stories give us the hope we need to climb to our own patch of sunshine.Tags: Sequence 05: Tropes and Archetypes