I personally am really big on well-written redemption arcs, and I have some different thoughts and opinions on redemption arcs and things that I like and don’t like.
As a pretty amateur writer myself, I have a hard time with writing redemption arcs, although my issues are more the process of writing it and showing the specific things that happen instead of just telling about them. I do have a decent general idea in my head about what makes redemption work – I just have a hard time figuring out how to show it.
Just from things I’ve read and watched, I have my own opinions on what I like and dislike about certain redemption arcs – and not every one has to be the same – they can differ depending on the character.
The characters mentioned are from Warriors, Harry Potter, the new Star Wars trilogy, and Avatar: TLA, so there will be various spoilers from those.
Here’s the first kind of redemption I want to talk about:
This is a really popular kind of redemption – and sometimes characters sacrifice themselves simply because they’re already good, and they don’t actually need to redeem themselves.
I have nothing really against this. It works well for redemption and in general. There are lots of characters who have sacrificed themselves – either for redemption or just because they’re good in general – who I love. It’s a very honerable thing to do, and some characters who have done it don’t get enough love, like Stonefur and Regulus Black.
However, while this can work for redemption, I do think it is kind of overused, and a lot of the time, it sometimes seems like killing off the character so that you don’t have to deal with them post-redemption, which seems kind of lazy.
That does NOT mean it’s bad to make characters die nobly, but keep in mind, that if you want to write a good redemption arc that isn’t done a whole lot, it can be more satisfying to let the character live and to show their struggle of being a good person.
I want to talk about Kylo Ren here because I do like his redemption arc and how it was done as a life sacrifice. It would’ve been interesting to see him live, but then again, it’s not like we really would’ve seen much of him afterword anyway, and three movies also isn’t a whole lot of time to develop a redemption, so overall, it probably could’ve been better, but I’m pretty satisfied with what we got for what it was.
This can be mixed with other kinds of redemption arcs as well, but I think it’s an important aspect that can make a redemption better: Having the character apologize.
If it’s truly a sincere apology and the character really means they want to do better in the future, it’s really satisfying for them to actually admit they were wrong and apologize. It really takes some serious courage and guts, especially for characters with a lot of pride.
This is why I love Percy Weasley! He doesn’t get enough love for rejoining his family and apologizing to them.
Now I’m going to talk about something I don’t like to see.
It’s fine if the character is the type to make excuses for themself or if the people around them make excuses for them because that’s what they’re like, but this cannot be used as an entire redemtion arc! It’s not what a redemption is. Why redeem yourself when your actions are already excused to begin with? This is the opposite of the apology redemption and is not what I look for in redemptions.
Some examples of this happening include Ashfur’s “He only loved too much,” and Breezpelt in Crowfeather’s Trial not really being portrayed how I think he should’ve.
Now we have some other ones that can be good.
Redemption with romance
Okay, so this one can go either way, for better or worse. Things like enemies to lovers and bad boy x good girl (or good boy x bad girl) can fall under this category.
Let’s take bad boy x good girl. The one thing it really shouldn’t be is the girl “changing” the boy. The boy needs to change for himself, not because the girl MAKES him change. It can be the boy changes himself because he wants the girl to like him, or better, the boy changes himself just because he wants to, then the girl starts liking him.
James Potter is kind of an example of the first “good” one. It isn’t as good as it could be, but I still like James and think he has a decent arc. (He’s my favorite Potter along with Harry and Albus.)
I don’t really know what to call this one, and regret is a part of pretty much any good redemption, but I really want to talk about a character who I think has a good redemption: Hollyleaf.
Hollyleaf regretted killing Ashfur (even though it was kind of justified) and attempting to kill Leafpool. She ran away and hid in tunnels and lived in her own guilt for a while, but then she returned when ThunderClan was in danger of having an attack from the tunnels. She taught her Clanmates fighting techniques that worked the best in the tunnels, and when she got the chance to kill Sol (the cat who was pretty much in charge of the attack), she chose not to.
Later on, she sacrificed her life for one of her Clanmates.
I think Hollyleaf has one of the best Warriors redemptions.
I don’t know exactly what to call this, and it may not be counted as a total redemption arc as it isn’t finished, but it’s basically saying that not everyone has to fully be redeemed, even though they could and/or their redemption can be left up for interpretation for what the readers think happened after the story.
My example for this is actually my favorite character, Draco Malfoy. He changed a lot throughout the last two books, but he never really got a complete redemtion, even though he could’ve.
I honestly think that if he HAD gotten a full redemption, it would’ve been too rushed. That wasn’t really the point of his character, anyway. All Draco wanted was to protect his family – he didn’t really care about the good side or the bad side at that point – he only cared about his family.
But that doesn’t mean he can’t have a redemption after Deathly Hallows – he doesn’t have to, but he can, and just the fact that he was shown in the epilogue does kind of hint at it.
So people that do want him to have a redemption can decide how it should be. For me, I want him to just try and be a better person, admit he was wrong, maybe apologize to Harry and some of the other people he’s hurt. I also have it combined with some romance with him and Astoria.
I wrote a fanfiction with this, but that’s where my amateur writing skills come in. I don’t know exactly how to SHOW his struggle, or how he decides to apologize to Harry and how he does apologize to him, not to mention Harry’s reaction. There’s also the development of his relationship with Astoria, but I think that falls more under romance than redemption, and I think it turned out pretty well. I can post the fanfiction to see what people think of it, and I’m totally open to criticism and ways to improve it.
Here are some other general things to consider when writing redemptions, some that I’ve already kind of talked about, before I talk about the last redemption I want to get into.
As I’ve already mentioned, if they don’t die/until they do die, they might still need to struggle a lot and have problems with backsliding. And people shouldn’t always automatically forgive them right away.
Here’s the last one-
The character joins the main character/team and ultimately helps defeat the main villain.
Zuko! Zuko has a really great fully done redemption arc where it takes him a lot of time to realize what he should do, and he has a lot of conflict, he apologizes, they don’t automatically forgive him, he struggles and backslides, he risks his life.
All around, he has a great character arc.