Since I devoted an entire post to storytelling tropes I’m sick of, let’s talk about one of my favorites: the redemption story.
It’s a trope that can fairly be called as played out as some of the others I previously called out, but the redemption story doesn’t get old to me because there’s something about the power of goodness winning out that feels good every time we see it.
Every time we see it done well, I should say.
I wouldn’t call it an “American” thing, as some lazy writers do, because modern American culture loves nothing more than tearing good people down and cutting off the avenue for any second-chances. Redemption might have been an American thing two or three generations ago, but those days are lost–another casualty of postmodernism and intersectionality (i.e., satanism).
Anyway, a good redemption story hits all the right notes:
- The power of good over evil.
- The power of human beings to change.
- The power of second chances.
- The power of hope.
What makes a good redemption story? I’ve discovered the big key to redemption stories that can prevent them from appearing like unbelievable Deus ex machina:
The character who turns from evil to good has some kind of history of being good or noble.
I understand that this is not iron clad, but here me out.
Maybe they were duped into being bad, maybe they gave in to a temptation and didn’t know how to back out, or maybe they remembered something they had forgotten. Either way, the turn doesn’t come from out of nowhere.
Notable examples: Darth Vader is an obvious one, turning against Emperor Palpatine in order to save his son Luke Skywalker’s life. It works because Vader, aka Anakin, was corrupted by Palpatine into believing the dark side could save his wife from her prophesied death. Seeing his own child being killed by the Emperor helped ignite the tiny spark of good in Vader’s soul.
I think Boromir in The Fellowship of the Ring is another good example. Boromir, good, decent, and noble warrior, though hot-headed, desperately wants to save his kingdom of Gondor from the forces of evil. And then the One Ring plops into his lap. The Ring’s malevolence twists him into attempting to seize it from Frodo, only for Boromir to realize what he almost did. Boromir later sacrifices his life holding off a swarm of orcs to let Frodo and Sam escape. It’s a powerful scene and a glorious, though sad, end for a tragic character.
And because Ninjago is fresh in my mind, I did enjoy the when Lord Garmadon was purged of evil by his son Lloyd at the end of season 3, and acted as another Sensei to the ninja alongside his brother Wu in season 4.
Other redemption stories don’t have this template, or at least it isn’t shown in the stories. Sometimes criminals come out of jail appropriately chastened and ready for a fresh start. Other times, the hand of divine providence plays a part. For Christians, St. Paul is perhaps the greatest example of this: to go from violently persecuting Christians to becoming one of Christ’s most prolific and fervent preachers can only be the result of the hand of God. And for a guy to be so public about his turn, knowing he would eventually die because of it–and write so copiously about it–only makes St. Paul’s story all the more credible.
There are many redemption stories writers can use to add some richness and hopefulness to their stories. Redemption stories, sometimes coupled with personal sacrifice, are incredibly powerful tropes that never get old to me.
What are some of your favorite redemption stories?
For a redemption arc you might not see coming, check out my novel A Traitor to Dreams and let me know if you think it worked.