The Point of No Return


Found this carved above the toilet in a public restroom. Even the can judges my writing choices.

A question today, for all you writers and readers: how far down the dark road can a character go before they’re completely irredeemable?

It comes up because I’m doing some rewrites, and, man, some of them involve a particular character going to a bad place. I think it’s necessary, but this character, who is already not a great person, is going to do some stuff which might make them irredeemable to readers.

Which could be a problem, since I intend to redeem them. Eventually. You know, after they’ve suffered for a bit.

Writers really are such assholes.

Note that being irredeemable is not the same as not liking a character. I might dislike a character for plenty of reasons, including but not limited to whining, passivity, entitlement, meaningless brooding, and just being a little shit. For a character to cross into irreversible damnation, they have to commit a pretty big sin, and most of the characters I dislike don’t think that big.

My line, such as it is, is fairly simple: in order for a character to be morally dead to me, they have to punch down. In other words, they have to choose to hurt someone who is weaker than them or unable to strike back and know it. Strike the helpless, abuse an animal, verbally cut someone you know is already hurting just because you can…choose to do those things when you damn well know better and you are on thin ice, friend. Do it twice and you are on thin ice while wearing a seal costume with a big hungry polar bearheading your way.

These metaphors got really Canadian all of a sudden.

Where’s your line, dear reader? What thing can a character do to make them just the worst? Or do you think everyone, from the most minor sinner to the Darkest of Dark Lords, can come back to the side of the angels? Tell me your thoughts.

In the meantime, I’m going to go ruin this character’s life. Again.

8 thoughts on “The Point of No Return

  1. I pushed that envelope with a short story character. He can turn into fog, but he used that ability to shower with unsuspecting women. I had him catch a killer, but it’s questionable as to whether he is redeemable. On the plus side, he was pretty well liked by my readers, so I’m going to use him again.

  2. Ah…you’re speaking my language (including, but not limited to, Canadian metaphors. *waves from Canada*)

    I think my line would be very similar to yours, but I would add one thing — they strike out at the helpless (etc.) and not only do they know it’s wrong but they also see it as RIGHT. One of my characters (he’s the villain) is a classist serial killer hell-bent on destroying, er, another character and he will cut down anyone who gets in his way. This guy’s soul is dead. Deader than dead. He’s creeping ME out and I’m the writer.

    But, like you, I have a character who is…not great. And he is going to do some bad stuff. But his story is fundamentally a redemption arc. After he’s suffered. >:) Those are some of my favourite stories, really. To read and write. It’s a hell of a challenge, but…CHALLENGE ACCEPTED.

    I don’t think *every* character can be redeemed (Sauron? Voldemort? My serial killer character? Nope. Not happening.), but a lot of it depends on the aim of the writer and whether they leave any humanity for us to grasp onto. It’s something I’m ruminating on, myself.

    Great post!

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