Somebody Else Says: Nathan Bransford (and Me) on Redeemability

Okay, I know it’s starting to feel like this is a bit of a cheating week for me. First, I the WONDERFUL and BRILLIANT Shrinking Violets guest post for me. (I know how much you all loved that, though, so no guilt here!). Then I resort to a visual image, no words, about my workday, and I didn’t even find that image myself–Nastassja Mills did! And now, I’m sending you over to read Nathan Bransford’s blog.

Still, no guilt. Because Nathan is always worth listening to, and also because I am going to throw my own two cents into the pot here. Nathan’s basically talking about how to make it work that your hero does something horrible or has a pretty nasty flaw. And his basic idea–although he says it much better and in more detail, so you MUST go read the post–is that you do this by redeeming your hero.

What I started thinking about, though, as I read the post is that this implies another need, perhaps. And that would be the need to have our hero do something “bad” to start with. Yes, I’m still buried in Donald Maass’ workbook and theories, but this seems to me to fall under that big umbrella of pushing our heroes past our their limits.

I am having the sense as I think about my fiction WIP and draft out a few early scenes that I’m making my hero pretty darned, well…heroic. That’s okay. In fact, that’s good. Some pretty nasty things happen to her, and she’s going to have to be strong, or to repeat the highest praise I’ve ever heard about any heroine from literaticatkick-ass. But…

She can’t be Wonder Woman. (For one thing, the story is set in Chicago, 1913–in MARCH, and that outfit would be completely inappropriate.)

One of my goal for this character is to find out what she does wrong. It has to, I think, be a necessary wrong and one that is ultimately a critical part of her quest and growth, but it does have to be bad.

What about your heroes? Do they wear cloaks because they’re hiding something? What’s really under that mask? How bad can you make them? And how will you, as Nathan says, redeem them?


  1. Sherrie says:

    Good point. Sometimes we love them so much we don’t want to show their flaws. But the story is so much more compelling when we realize that they, like us, are not perfect, and still able to accomplish something great…


    • beckylevine says:

      And, I think, we’re so proud of them when they’re really strong–for me, I’m always amazed when my character does something powerful (and good) that I might not be able to do myself.

      I’m really going to have to dig for the opposite, I think.


  2. Sue says:

    I went through this with my main character. It was as if I wanted to protect him or something. But when my critique group noted that my MC’s sidekick was actually more devious than my MC, I knew something was wrong. So, all those characteristics I’d given my sidekick (his best friend), I put on the MC. He is a much more complex character for it, and far more interesting!


    • beckylevine says:

      Sue, that’s a great idea! I’ll have to look at some of the nasty things people are doing around my MC and see if anything needs to be shifted to her!


  3. Shawna says:

    I think it’s easy to make our heroes all good and our villans all bad, but people aren’t that way. I read Nathan’s post but it wasn’t until I read yours that I really thought about my current WIP. She’s a bit of a hot head, impulsive but she matures. I do think I’ll have add a few nuances to my bad guy’s character to make him more complex.

    Thanks for the post!


    • beckylevine says:

      Shawna, I think, for me, it’s easy to forget that I need to show this “badness” in action–a big one. That’s what Nathan’s post brought home to me, that it’s not just being a certain personality with flaws, but that my MC is going to have to do a BIGGIE and then somehow make up for it.


      • Shawna says:

        That kind of action does make the best page-turner. (I’m more and more intriged by your WIP) I suppose I was thinking that it’s because of my MC’s impulsiveness that she acts in such a way it affects all the characters in the novel. Ugh, I need another cup of coffee. : ) Articulate before caffeine doesn’t work for me.


        • beckylevine says:

          I think impulsiveness is a great cause of “bad things.” Plus,it can turn into something that makes the MC do something great, as well, which works, I think, with Nathan’s redeemability.


  4. P. J. Hoover says:

    Yeah, it’s hard to make the people (characters) we love bad. But necessary.


  5. Andra M. says:

    I need to pick up Donald Maass’s book!

    Funny, though. The premise of my first novel is how no matter how bad someone is, they’re not beyond redemption. The story even opens with my main character killing someone in his sleep.

    Thanks also for the link to Nathan’s site.

    Tries to imagine Wonder Woman in 1913 Chicago . . .


    • beckylevine says:

      That’s great about your premise, Andra! Sounds wonderful. And, yes, Maass’ book is fantastic.

      Didn’t Wonder Woman start in WWII? Or was that Captain America? [Asks the not-so-closet comic-book fan.] I’m sure the outfit was a lot more shocking then, but you just didn’t mess with WW, no matter when!


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