Throughout books, TV shows, and movies, main characters inherently change from start to finish whether it’s a positive or negative decline on the character in question. Through character development, there’s a type of change called the redemption arc. Most writers use it to redeem characters that atone for their wrongdoings. However, a character cannot wake up one day and be a good person. There has to be a driving force that changes the character’s thinking and actions.
However, before a writer can redeem them, there has to be redeemable qualities and actions for the character.
Redeemable Qualities and Actions
If you want to redeem your said character, they need to have preexisting likable qualities. Redeemable characters need these qualities so their redemption is not a surprise or a drastic shift. Furthermore, remember that these characters need redeemable actions too. No one is going to cheer on someone that does unspeakable acts. These actions can show them doing a bad thing but with a good motive behind it. An example of this is the Batman villain, Mr. Freeze.
Freeze wants to save his wife, who has a heart disease that no one can cure. Mr. Freeze tries to save his wife through different methods, but he hurts the people that could not help her. This is a classic character who wants to save a loved one but goes to extreme lengths to rescue them. The audience is in turmoil with this motive. This is due to being sympathetic towards the character but rejecting their methods.
Now that is established, let’s look at two ways a character can be redeemed.
First and foremost, this type of redemption arc spans a book series or TV show season(s). The character goes from one point to another until they are accepted and forgiven. An example of this is Zuko from Avatar the Last Airbender. This series follows two storylines that meet in season three. Zuko’s goal in his storyline is to find and capture the Avatar to regain his honor. However, this goal changes as Zuko realizes he does not want acceptance from his father and finds his path. This redemption arc is not complete until he receives forgiveness in season three.
This type of redemption arc shows the audience the character’s motivations, weak points, and a journey that makes them question everything. The character also has a test that breaks them away from their old worldview. It is also vital that the character goes through a period of atonement. This is to prove they have changed and gained acceptance.
In contrast to the slower redemption arc, there is one that is quicker with character change. This type of arc can happen in a short time. But it is important to remember that the character’s weak point stops them from being truly evil. A character cannot be redeemable if they suddenly choose to do something good. Another character can push the flawed character to change and give acceptance. An example of this is Darth Vader from Star Wars. Darth Vader is not on screen enough for full development until episode six. The audience can rely on Luke’s acceptance of Vader’s sacrifice for redemption.
Additionally, these characters’ redemption arcs end with an ultimate sacrifice. This leaves the other characters to accept and validate their atonement. This sacrifice can be anything, such as saving the heroes or losing something to save someone’s life or death.
Moreover, the types of redemption arcs here are not the only ones. Many others give a unique spin on redemption arcs and how they can fit a character’s story. This type of arc shows how much depth characters have. But remember, the character can only become good if they atone for their old worldview and they are forgiven.
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