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Thread: Just how far can redemption go?

  1. #1
    starry sunrise Windcutter's Avatar
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    Just how far can redemption go?

    A classic tragic hero is a basically noble figure that possesses a character flaw leading to their defeat. But what if MC is more deeply flawed, straddling the line between this and antihero--in YA fiction, just how far are we able to carry the ending without alienating the audience?

    The typical structure of redemption stories is such that the main character changes her outlook, rights the wrongs she caused and willingly pays for that, often sacrificing herself in the process. A killer who helps to find a more evil killer and then goes to be judged. A stalker who dies to save the person he used to stalk. There is a whole batch of "a popular girl dies, comes back to hang around and realizes she was a bad person when she was alive" stories in YA. But what if our YA MC does something much worse than not being nice?

    I had curiously polar reactions to a story in this vein. Ranging from "nooo why did she have to die?" to "pff, she got off too easily".

  2. #2
    practical experience, FTW MAP's Avatar
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    I'm guessing this is one that is very subjective. Not every reader is going to love every book.

    Personally, in real life, I believe just about anyone can be redeemed as long as they really understand and pay for what they did. So the same would be true for fiction. The more horrible their crimes, the more they should have to pay. In a story like this, there is a need to feel that justice was served.
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  3. #3
    Who rules?! Hyrules! Liosse de Velishaf's Avatar
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    Redeption for me generally requires a strong attachment to the character. There has to be a strong reason for them committing the crime, as well. And the redemption would require a believable and acceptable repayment, the type of which would depend on the original crime.

  4. #4
    we're gonna make it out of the fire The_Ink_Goddess's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Windcutter View Post
    A classic tragic hero is a basically noble figure that possesses a character flaw leading to their defeat. But what if MC is more deeply flawed, straddling the line between this and antihero--in YA fiction, just how far are we able to carry the ending without alienating the audience?

    The typical structure of redemption stories is such that the main character changes her outlook, rights the wrongs she caused and willingly pays for that, often sacrificing herself in the process. A killer who helps to find a more evil killer and then goes to be judged. A stalker who dies to save the person he used to stalk. There is a whole batch of "a popular girl dies, comes back to hang around and realizes she was a bad person when she was alive" stories in YA. But what if our YA MC does something much worse than not being nice?

    I had curiously polar reactions to a story in this vein. Ranging from "nooo why did she have to die?" to "pff, she got off too easily".
    I consider myself a very liberal person in a lot of ways, but this is something I've been thinking about A LOT recently, because a lot of my stories feature, at least as an element, bad people looking for redemption, and "do they deserve it?" always rolls around in both mine and the character's minds.

    One huge problem that I find with this story is that, too often, the noble thing a character does cancels out the thing they did wrong. I think this is largely a mistake and it makes me feel very uncomfortable. For example, let's say you're a cold-blooded murderer and you sacrifice yourself. I could probably work up some emotion for you regarding the sacrifice, but it wouldn't bring the person you killed back to life, or repair the family's suffering.

    To give an example of a great work which I felt had the element of the latter: CRACKED UP TO BE by Courtney Summers. So Parker witnessed her best friend's rape and murder and did nothing. But apparently it's (mostly) okay and swept under the carpet because, hey, she's getting help now! And Hannah from THIRTEEN REASONS WHY may have killed herself, but it doesn't 'excuse' the horrible things she did. A good example,on the other hand, would be SOME GIRLS ARE (also by Courtney Summers!) which I felt brilliantly balanced the question of Regina as a horrible person and the horrible things that happened to her.

    Does that make sense? I don't want to sound too preachy, because I genuinely like this trope.
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  5. #5
    Listening to Bastille on repeat LadyA's Avatar
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    Depends how much they regret it, I suppose. If the bad thing they did is something they regret so much it ruins their life (like the aforementioned Parker in CRACKED UP TO BE and my MMC killer) then the audience is more likely to sympathise with them.

    Also, if they had a reason for doing the bad thing they did. Doing a bad thing for good reasons is a trope I always find really interesting in fiction.
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  6. #6
    practical experience, FTW amschilling's Avatar
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    I agree with LadyA. I personally love the bad things for good reasons trope. If it's done well, you can sympathize with someone deplorable, even if you don't want to. I'm actually playing with that in my current book--I have a character who's done horrific things, and is completely unapologetic about them, but he's done them for reasonably pure reasons. And my MC is struggling because she wants to hate him but it's getting more difficult for her. For one, she understands why he did said horrific things, so even though she hates the acts, she gets it. And for another, he's more than just that one act of badness.

    It can be a tricky line to walk, and not every reader is going to agree with the redemption, but that doesn't mean it's not worth exploring. Sometimes good people do bad things. And sometimes bad people do bad things for good reasons. The key, I think, is to make the character complex enough that there's more to them than just their bad actions.
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  7. #7
    Writer Erin Kelly's Avatar
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    I find it interesting that you had polar reactions -- very interesting indeed. That may not be a bad thing. You never want identical negative reactions from betas, but to have differing reactions on both sides isn't always bad. It could mean that you wrote a very complex character. It could mean that you made your character dimensional and sympathetic, but each beta had varying levels of sympathy. I haven't read it of course, but I would take a good look at the MS rather than questioning redemption overall. You've either written a strong three-dimensional character or one who isn't dimensional enough! : )
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