The following post is expressively MY own opinion. I do not endorse any company or person with this post and state my own humble opinion.
As writers, we face the sometimes half impossible journey into making characters who 'leap from the screen and page' and are 'so real he/she could be your best friend'. As readers, we don't want the same ole same old character (good lord, that's boring) and we want to feel immersed in the story to the point we escape real life.
But what makes a 'bad' character good? How bad is too bad? And can EVERY character be redeemed?
I ask this because my lovely friend Jen Bradlee mentioned to me a controversy in the RITA Awards this year. The RITA Awards are, in case you didn't know, voted and judged on by published authors for published authors and sponsored by The Romance Writers of America (RWA). So groups of your peer and fellow writers vote on the books they feel is 'Best' in dozens of categories.
The controversary involves a book nominated for the award in which the Hero is a Nazi Death Camp Supervisor and the Heroine is a Jewish almost inmate he rescues. I have NOT read the book so I refuse to comment on the theme or storyline since I really can't. But many groups felt this sort of plotline was in very bad taste and did not want it nomintaed for a top award. It didn't win the award, but it was nominated.
Now, to be honest, nominations are announced weeks ahead of the actual awards ceremony, so it was known the book was up for a top award. The controversy has erupted in the last few days, although the nominations and acual awards were weeks ago (the RITA award was given in late July)
The story is here for anyone who wishes to read it: http://www.jta.org/2015/08/06/life-religion/nazi-jewish-romance-novel-shakes-christian-lit-world
So CAN every character be redeemed? Should every Character be redeemed?
I'm a believer in the human spirit. A big believer. I want to think everyone can be redeemed even as my head knows some don't WANT to be redeemed. When I write a book with a 'bad' character, it's because each one of us has the capasity and I dare say every day choice to choose what our actions might be. We CHOOSE to be 'good' or 'bad'. It's not our character so much as our choices which define us. So my characters, good or bad, choose the way they want to be and make decisions based on their choices and vice versa.
In Wedding Belle Blues, I had one reviewer comment she didn't like the fact certain characters didn't "get theirs in the end". I had a whole blow up, knock down, drag it out scene planned, but Anna, my heroine, gently explained to me this is NOT the way she would handle the scene. I could write what I wanted, but I wasn't true to Anna's character planning a huge scene. It's not who Anna is. So I wrote the scene in Anna's way and it works (even without a cat fight...though believe you me, Anna has the ability to be a tiger when her loved ones are threatened, as you will soon read in a future book).
Anna in Wedding Belle Blues
And to be honest...the 'bad' character in Wedding Belle Blues...and there are two... does NOT want to change his/her circumstances. He/She is very happy the way things are. Why change when you are happy? They don't want to be redeemed. And so I didn't try to redeem them.
So can an author 'redeem' a bad character so a reader doesn't feel 'cheated'?
For me, it's the character, just as the person. Does the character WANT to change? Because frankly, I want to lose weight, but if I don't WANT it badly enough, I never will. See the difference? Saying you want to change and then actually DOING something to change are two separate things. If I eat junk food all day and never exercise, I probably won't lose weight even if I say I want to.
When I have a 'bad' character in a book, (and let's face it, 'bad' is so so broad. What's 'bad' to me may not be 'bad' to you) I make him/her as 'real' as I can. No one is ALL bad nor is anyone ALL good. The surest way for me to metaphorically throw a book across the room is to give me an all bad or all good character. It's lazy, sloppy writing. And I hate it.
Take for instance, the character Loki in The Avengers movie. He's the 'bad guy'. He does some way bad things like killing people, opening a portal for an alien invasion, and trying to take over the world. But one thing I noticed about Loki. He did things for dramatic effect, for the 'grand scale'. And he showed moments of mercy and almost...dare I say it? tenderness, particularly taking to his brother. His character comes through even more so in Thor 2 when he mourns the death of the one person he's always loved (didn't want to give spoilers).
Can Loki be redeemed? Does Loki WANT to be redeemed?
So to redeem a character...don't TELL me why he/she wants to now be good. SHOW me. And make it part of his/her own nature.
I admit, the above mentioned Nazi Hero doesn't sound redeemable. I mean, yes, they were following orders, but millions of people died. Can anyone who helped commit such a horrible act be redeemed? Even with love?
I'm not sure. As a reader, I have strong doubts, based entirely on personal experience and friends who lost relatives in that mass murder. But I'm willing to give a character, just as I give people, the chance to prove to me he/she WANTS to change.
Maybe that's how we redeem ourselves. By wanting to change and then actually doing it. :)
So...what are you thoughts on how to redeem a character or even if one CAN be redeemed.