Redeeming a Character
As writers, we are often asked about secondary characters in our books, and encouraged to tell their stories. That’s fine where the character is the hero’s friend or partner. But what if the character isn’t that nice?
How do you handle a story about the heroine’s ex-boyfriend, or the guy who owned the next ranch and wanted to buy all the surrounding property?
If Thomas Harris could do it with Hannibal Lecter, any character can be redeemed. Of course, Harris didn’t try to make Lecter into a hero, just a fascinating and pivotal character. And any book could use someone like that.
Harris had already portrayed Lecter as highly intelligent in Red Dragon. In Silence of the Lambs, he showed Lector as an artist and reader; someone who made the most of his hellish existence without complaint. Then Harris revealed Lecter’s mistreatment by a corrupt prison official. No matter how evil the character, readers sympathize with someone who is ill-treated. Add to that the fact that Lecter helped the young, naive FBI agent take down a truly sadistic serial killer, and Harris had redeemed an evil psychopath into a character readers could root for.
So what can we learn from Harris’s treatment of Lecter? How can we take a tarnished character and turn him into a hero? First, give him some admirable characteristics, explain why he did whatever he did, have him show remorse, learn from his mistakes, and reveal how he has paid for his past actions. Then have him perform heroic deeds.
In my first book, The Secrets on Forest Bend, I introduced a minor character named Remy Steinberg. Remy was described as ‘having kids all over town with two ex-wives and a former girlfriend.” Not the stuff heroes are made of. However, even in that book, Remy was depicted as a good cop, working hard to bring down some very bad guys.
Remy appeared briefly in my second book, The Witch on Twisted Oak. By then, I already knew I wanted to use him in his own book, and while I gave him a little more page time, I didn’t change his personality. He was still described as a good detective that helped the hero solve a case, but as a womanizer not to be trusted with the hero’s girlfriend.
So how did I turn him into a hero for Voodoo on Bayou Lafonte? I cheated, but only a little. I moved his ex-wife and daughter to Louisiana so he would have to travel there to save them. I did away with the second ex-wife’s kid, and turned the former girlfriend into a manipulative witch who lied to him about being the father of her son, a fact that crushed Remy (paid a price for his actions.)
When Gabby, Remy’s ex-wife calls to say that their daughter is missing, he rushes to her side to search for the girl (admirable characteristic.) We know early on that he still loves Gabby and regrets their divorce (shows remorse.) We learn that he left town to hunt for a job so he could support his family (explain why he acted as he did.) He remarried on the rebound after Gabby left him (more explanation.)
When he reaches Louisiana, he works with his ex-wife (learns from past mistakes) and willingly faces drug-dealers, voodoo priests, corrupt law-enforcement officials, and a raging hurricane to save his daughter (heroic deeds.)
Was I able or redeem Remy? You’ll have to be the judge of that. Is there a character from literature that you would love to see redeemed?
Susan C. Muller
Genre: Paranormal romantic suspense
Publisher: Soul Mate Publishing
Date of Publication: Jan 2, 2014
Word Count: 80,000
Cover Artist: Rae Monet
A frantic phone call leads Detective Remy Steinberg racing through the night toward the one place he vowed never to return. With the life of his kidnapped daughter at stake, he willingly faces shotgun-wielding drug dealers, corrupt law-enforcement officials, and a raging hurricane.
Scouring the seedy back alleys of New Orleans for information, he goes undercover at a sinister voodoo ceremony, and struggles to understand the forces of black magic that hold his daughter hostage.
With time ticking down, he battles for his life against a high voodoo priest, but can he face the two things he fears most: the swamp that terrorized his childhood, and the ex-wife he’s never stopped loving?
Detective Remy Steinberg must return to Louisiana in search of his kidnapped daughter. Can he save her before the swamp swallows her up and he loses any chance at happiness?
For those of you who don’t know me, I’m a fourth generation Texan and I attended Stephen F. Austin State University where I majored in Business Administration, but took creative writing classes on the side because that’s where my heart was.
I have always loved reading and if it’s true that God doesn’t subtract the hours you spend reading from your life span, then I should pass the century mark with flying colors. I first tried my hand at writing when I was eleven, but the sun was shining and I had a new bike so that effort was doomed to failure.
I didn’t try writing again until I was well into my sixties. People ask me why I took it up then and my answer is simple, because my husband retired. If you don’t understand, just wait, you will.
My first novel, The Secrets on Forest Bend, won several awards. After that, I was hooked.
I’ve been blessed with two great kids and four grandkids. My late husband and I loved to travel and we saw much of the world. Kenya, New Zealand, and the Galapagos Islands are a few of my favorite places. After he passed, I thought my traveling days were over, yet I’ve since been to Argentina, Brazil, and Venezuela.
I live in Spring, Texas where I currently serve as president of the Northwest Houston chapter of RWA and volunteer at a local hospital. I also enjoy speaking to book clubs and writers groups.