Characters: How far gone is too far gone?

“The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what fiction means.” ~Miss Prism, The Importance of Being Earnest

Okay, so confession: I first watched The Importance of Being Earnest around a month ago with my family.  Before that time, I had never read or seen the play.  (I know, I know.  I am going to sit myself in a corner just as soon as I finish this). Anyway, this particular quote provoked an unladylike snort  from me.

On one hand, the idea of a person getting what’s coming to them is incredibly appealing to me. Since that doesn’t happen often in my real world experiences, a big part of me likes this ideal to be upheld in fiction at least.  You know, what goes around, comes around.  Karma. You reap what you sow.  All of that.

On the other hand, where is the redemption, the grace in that?

I really like the TV Show Once Upon a Time.  I mean, I really like it.  The characters are all so human, even the bad ones.  None of them are purely good, and none of them are completely evil.  I think that is the show’s strength (it’s relatable), and it’s also its weakness. The show almost seems to be in denial about the existence of sheer evil – it is too concerned with its villains’ motivations.  I love Regina and how she’s trying, and even Rumpel has his moments,  I just happen to think there is a level of evil that is only motivated by evil itself: straight up evil.

At what point do creators of these characters look at them and determine that enough is enough? That they cannot be redeemed? That they have made an irrevocable, damnable choice that they cannot recover from? How is that decision made?

While writing The Field, I had a character I wanted to destroy at the end.  A character that absolutely, positively had it coming.  But when I came up on the time for this character to be destroyed, I found myself with a dilemma.  Rather than wanting to destroy this character, I wanted this character to find redemption instead,  but because I’m a big believer in grace and mercy.  But what about what this character deserved? What about all of the terrible things this character had done?

I wrestled for a long time before I made a decision about the fate of that character. (No, I’m not going to tell you what I decided. You’re just going to have to read The Field for yourself!) Honestly, I’m still wrestling – not with The Field, but with how I will handle this in my future writing.

So fellow character creators and consumers…

Are there things a character really cannot come back from? What point is that for you?

If there is nothing a character cannot come back from, is there such a thing as absolute evil?

And what are the real life implications of how we deal with redemption and evil in fiction?

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