The Last Rite Redemption


Hi Jim,

I have a character in my story that I want to turn from a bad guy into a good guy. The problem is that he’s guilty of committing several atrocities including mass genocide. I don’t see how I can turn him into a good guy in a way that I can redeem him. Any thoughts?


Hi Linney,

Oooooo that is a tough one. Redeeming someone who committed mass genocide is certainly a tall order and frankly… it’s impossible. Morally, there really isn’t any way a person can be redeemed for committing such a heinous crime. I think at most, heroes would accept that person as an ally of convenience at most.

In truth, both Lucasfilm and Marvel really seemed to struggle with this one. Lucasfilm had to find a way to ‘save’ Anakin Skywalker at the end of Return of the Jedi. This is the guy who killed multiple Jedi including young children. How can one be redeemed from something like that? Well… they went about it in kind of a weird way. It’s sort of an ambiguous explanation, but Obi Wan seems to imply that Darth Vader and Anakin Skywalker are in fact two different people. Could it be that the force influence over a Jedi alters their personality when they go from light to dark and vice versa?
Luke: You mean it controls your actions?
Obi Wan: Partially, but it also obeys your commands.

Obi Wan: Your father was seduced by the dark side of the force. He ceased to be Anakin Skywalker and became Darth Vader. When that happened, the good man who was your father, was destroyed.

So it is kind of implied that this is the case.

Marvel really messed up on this one… everyone already knows my opinion on the Phoenix Saga, but when the writers decided to resurrect Jean Grey, they had to figure out a way to do it that absolved her of the mass genocide she’d committed as Phoenix… despite the fact that she wasn’t even really responsible for her actions. To do that, they made it so that her and the Phoenix were two different beings and the Phoenix had essentially copied her physical characteristics.

So if you’re not willing to do a workaround, and I highly advise against it, I’d say that you probably can’t absolve the character. You can have them work for good, but they’ll never be out from under what they did. At best, I’d say by the end of the story, kill that character off. Have them sacrifice themselves to save the heroes or another large group of people.
I call this particular plot device the ‘Last Rite Redemption’. In my opinion the only way to cleanse the soul of someone who has committed such horrible crimes would be for that person to willingly give their lives to destroy an ultimate evil or save an ultimate good. Even then it may not be a redemption, but that’s as close as you’re going to get.

If you’re hoping to make that character a hero… likely that’s never going to happen.

Readers, what do you think? Do you have any advice for Linney?



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Thanks friends!

Catch you on the flip side!




8 thoughts on “The Last Rite Redemption

  1. willi355 says:

    maybe he could lose his memory?

    (just an initial thought )


    • StCyril says:

      The Darth Revan approach? I suppose that could work… however that would depend on whether or not you consider forgetting what one did as absolution.

      Liked by 1 person

      • willi355 says:

        Yeah, it wouldn’t really be but for the reader it would make it interesting… bc the character would wholeheartedly believe in his goodliness, with a few flashes of doubt or memories, which may make the reader feel more drawn in, and buoyed in an “I know something you don’t know….” type feeling 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Laura Beth says:

    That is a challenge. Maybe he could attempt to redeem himself with some sort of a heroic act, and then his feelings begin to change and he asks for forgiveness for all the atrocities he’s committed? Just thinking out loud here. What a question. Good luck, Linney!


  3. Dominic Sceski says:

    The characters in my book that were once good but then turn bad…well, they stay bad. They are convinced that they are irredeemable, so they either wallow in their sinfulness, or they try to commit some final act of good…usually in the form of a sacrifice. It’s a mixture of depressed suicide and heroic sacrifice.
    Of course, I’m sure there are other options!


  4. erdman31 says:

    I am of the opinion that anyone can be redeemed. That’s where I’m at, anyway, as of now. Certainly genocide is one of the most daunting challenges, but on the flip side here’s a piece of tried-and-true writerly wisdom: the greater the risk, the greater the reward. So, I’d say give it a go.

    One thing that I recall hearing, at some point in the deep past, is that when the NAZI officials were tried in court, those who had suffered in the concentration camps were deeply moved and shaken at the sight of these officials, but the reason they were shaken had to do with the fact that these officials were so ordinary, so human, so not-evil-looking. And maybe there’s an angle here, in terms of exploring a character guilty of participating in genocide: how is it that someone could get caught up in hate? “There but for the grace of God” is an old Christian saying, and it goes to the point that we are all shaped by forces that are largely out of our control, and sometimes we get caught up in shit that avalanches into deeper, darker, really evil shit; but I like the idea that a person might be redeemed, might come to grips with participating in genocide.

    Lastly, I’ve traveled and studied a bit about Rwanda. The history of the Rwandan genocide is recent, and the interesting thing is that it was common, ordinary Rwandans who actually did the killing, with machetes or any number of ordinary tools.

    While genocide may seem like a great sin, beyond the reach of redemption, a closer inspection may reveal that ordinary (and even good) we human beings are capable of unspeakable things, under the right circumstances. Humbling, very humbling — and perhaps it’s the stuff of good writing.


  5. I got away with it by having him go after criminals while being driven insane by his powers on overload. Fixed it with a power-control device. Here, how important is the redemption to his survival? Maybe a deathbed redemption? “I regret everything” kind of thing. Or mind control. Depends on what works in that story’s universe.


  6. mitchteemley says:

    Good points! The classic solution is to have the bad/good guy murderer die a repentant and (like Anakin) self-sacrificial death. The CW series The 100 has dealt with this issue–with mixed results–several times.

    Liked by 1 person

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