In this video, I give my thoughts on how to properly use the Love Redeems trope in your romance. I managed to break ten minutes on this one. Lordy, I hope I don’t have to edit another video that long for a while.
Transcription of Episode 3:
Leo: Love Redeems is the term TV Tropes uses to describe narratives where a villainous or flawed character becomes a better person out of love for another character. This trope can apply to familial love, love between friends, but in this video, we’ll be focusing on romantic love. As for flawed characters, I’m specifically referring to characters with detrimental personalities and who’ve done harmful things to other characters, not because they were influenced by magic or other forces beyond their control, but because of their natural disposition. If you’re familiar with my writing, then you probably already know that I’m very fond of this kind of storyline, but one of the reasons I decided to rewrite my first book is that I realized there were elements of my main characters’ relationship that were . . . uh, troubling. Trusting my instincts, I’m revising my novel’s main romance to give my leading couple a more solid foundation for their relationship. Will the final product be perfect? Probably not, but I can safely say the romance in Crossroads will be far better than it was in Death and the Maiden. An issue that a lot of people have with these types of stories is that when a Love Redeems narrative is done poorly, it runs the risk of romanticizing toxic or abusive relationships. Now I’m no expert in psychology, abuse, or how the media influences our values and social interactions. So I can’t really say what behavioral effects, if any, an unhealthy love story would have on audiences. But even if you don’t think film and literature have a significant impact on our psychology, the fact is readers want believable stories, and they are going to apply real-world logic to your characters’ behavior. Even in fantasy and science-fiction, genres in which you have to suspend your disbelief to an extent, most readers still want characters with personalities and relationships that feel authentic. So if you create a fictional relationship that would be viewed as unhealthy in real life, your work will be criticized, regardless of whether you were aiming for realism or not. While trying to rework my novel’s romance and its impact on my main character’s redemption, I’ve pinpointed a few key factors to think about as you’re writing your Love Redeems storyline. If your narrative is meant to be dark, tragic, or transgressive humor, then these suggestions might not be necessary for your story. This video is in response specifically to idealized love stories that have incorporated harmful notions of romance, such as E. L. James’s Fifty Shades series.
Item 1. Self-Improvement Versus “I Can Fix Them”
Leo: To start things off, which person is responsible for the flawed character’s redemption? The love interest? When a Love Redeems story takes the route of “I can fix them,” it takes responsibility away from the flawed character. What’s more admirable? Characters who improve themselves of their own volition, or characters who have to be told to improve by their boyfriends or girlfriends? And how many times do they have to be told? Not so fun fact, if someone has to be taught not to be an awful person more than once, then that individual will probably always be an awful person. If you want your redeemed character to be admired by your readers, then their redemption should be their own self-reflective choice. I certainly don’t find it romantic to have to repeatedly tell my significant other to stop eating babies, Bob!
Bob: (Growls irritably.)
Item 2. Accountability Versus Excuses
Leo: The next factor that influences the quality of a Love Redeems storyline is whether or not the flawed character is held accountable for their actions. Does the narrative try to rationalize the flawed character’s shortcomings or bad behavior? Some writers will try to make their flawed characters more likable by justifying their misconduct, including the terrible things they do to their own love interests. “It’s for their own good.” “I can’t help it, I’m damaged.” “I’m not abusive, it’s just my BDSM kink.” Okay, I really shouldn’t slam Fifty Shades too much. I haven’t read the books or seen any of the movies. So any comments I levy at this series are just things I heard secondhand. Plus I’m pretty sure I’ve made a few of the same mistakes E. L. James has made. If you wish to know more about the Fifty Shades series and the criticism it’s received, I’d recommend watching the Dom’s three-part review of Fifty Shades of Grey, links in the description:
“Fifty Shades of Grey as told by The Dom.” YouTube, uploaded by The Dom, 10 Mar 2017.
“Fifty Shades of Physical and Emotional Abuse, a book review by The Dom.” YouTube, uploaded by The Dom, 17 Mar 2017.
“Fifty Shades of Grey, Lost in Adaptation ~ The Dom.” YouTube, uploaded by The Dom, 24 Mar 2017.
Leo: Now let’s make a couple things clear. One, I’m not saying your flawed character can’t do anything negative in your story. By design, they have to do bad things to warrant their redemption arc. And two, you can give your flawed character a backstory that explains how they became flawed. The flawed character can even start out being the sort of person who rationalizes or excuses their own actions. But the story as a whole should not justify the flawed character’s fucked up actions, transfer blame to other characters, or use the flawed character’s backstory to diminish their accountability. If we created backstories for every villain ever created, most of them will probably have their own sob stories. That doesn’t mean they’re not still villains. You should acknowledge a flawed character’s culpability without making excuses, otherwise, their redemption won’t feel genuine.
Item 3. The Relationship Is the Goal Versus the Method
Leo: And lastly, how does the romantic relationship play into the flawed character’s redemption? When exactly does the romance start? Before the flawed character begins the redemption process or after? As I already covered in Item 1, the love interest should not be burdened with the responsibility of fixing the flawed character. If the lead couple starts their relationship before the flawed character begins the redemption process, the narrative could easily devolve into an “I can fix them” scenario. Now unlike Items 1 and 2, I don’t think this item is an absolute requirement. It depends on the dynamics of the relationship and the skills of the writer. But if the relationship is used as the method by which the character achieves redemption, you’ll need to be very, very careful not to turn this relationship toxic. An easier route would be to have the redemption begin before the romantic relationship actually starts, which could help you avoid the toxic dynamic and solidly establish that the flawed character is improving themself of their own choice. Let me give you a couple of examples.
Leo: In Pride and Prejudice, the two leads don’t become a couple until later in the story. The flawed character in this pairing is Fitzwilliam Darcy, a very cold and prideful man who typically treats others with disdain. He proposes to Elizabeth Bennett while simultaneously reminding her of how socially lower she and her family are compared to him, but he’s willing to overlook her inferiority and marry her. Elizabeth’s reaction?
Elizabeth Bennett: (Paraphrasing) “I’m sorry, can we backtrack to the part where you basically called me and my whole family gutter trash compared to you?”
Leo: Yeah, she doesn’t take it well. Up until that point in his life, no one had ever called Darcy out on his condescending behavior, and Elizabeth’s rejection forces him to finally reexamine how he treats others. The two don’t see each other until a few months later, at which point Darcy has actually changed and now treats everyone with respect and kindness. It’s then that Elizabeth begins to fall in love with Darcy.
Leo: The second example would be my all-time favorite Disney movie, Beauty and the Beast, which in my opinion, is a perfect example of how to do the Love Redeems narrative correctly, because it uses all three of the items I’ve covered in this video. Well, perfect so long as it’s treated as a stand-alone film, and one doesn’t regard the sequels as canonical additions to the story. Yeah, those films royally botch Items 1 and 3. Oh, for those who believe that Belle has Stockholm syndrome, I direct you to this video by Lindsay Ellis, link in the description:
“Is Beauty and the Beast About Stockholm Syndrome?” YouTube, uploaded by Lindsay Ellis, 29 Mar 2017.
Leo: Regarding Items 1 and 2, Belle is not the character saddled with the responsibility of redeeming the Beast, and his abusive behavior at the start of the film is never rationalized or excused. Beast works so well in the first move because it only takes him one day to reconsider his behavior and initiate his own self-improvement. Belle never tries to change him, because it’s not her job to do so. And as for item 3, Belle initially has no interest in having any sort of relationship with the Beast, romantic or platonic. She simply reacts appropriately to his conduct, rejecting him when he’s being a dick and doesn’t warm up to him until he shows genuine kindness.
Leo: But then there are the straight-to-video sequels, or midquels I should say. These continuations not only fail as Love Redeems narratives on their own, but if one accepts them as canonical additions to the franchise, they retroactively undermine the original film’s redemption narrative. The midquels completely break the characters and shove Belle into the role of, as Lindsay Ellis puts it, Beast’s “life coach.”
Leo: My opinion of the live-action remake is a bit more favorable, but it also weakens the redemption narrative. Remember Item 2, about the flawed character’s accountability? Well, in the live-action film, it’s revealed that the Beast was abused by his father, and his servants did nothing to interfere. Okay, and? Oh, the servants allegedly deserved to be punished alongside the Beast, because it was partly their fault that he grew up to be so cruel and selfish. Um, yeah . . . No, I call bullshit on that! The servants had no authority in that situation. If they had tried to interfere with the Beast’s upbringing, his father would have just gotten rid of them. No, the Beast’s cruelty and selfishness are his own fault, not the fault of his servants, and it undermines the Beast’s redemption that they tried to shift some of his blame onto the other characters.
Leo: Okay, I might be a touch too invested with this franchise. To sum everything up, if you wish to write a narrative using the Love Redeems trope, make sure the flawed character’s redemption is their own choice, hold your flawed character accountable for their actions, and for good measure, I’d suggest holding off on putting the romantic leads in a relationship until after the flawed character is well on their way to becoming a better person. People who are cold and arrogant, angry and selfish, or . . . whatever that is [referring to Christian Grey] . . . are not going to change simply by being loved. In my opinion, a more solid narrative would be one where the quest for love redeems a character. So there needs to be conditions that your flawed character has to follow in order to be worthy of a relationship. At least, that’s the sort of story I’d prefer. Is it impossible to write a good Love Redeems story while breaking one or more of these suggestions? I’d say maybe not, but I honestly don’t know how you would go about it. Just be careful with this one, guys. I hope this video was helpful. If it was, please Like and Subscribe, and hit that Bell icon to keep up with my videos. Next episode, we’re going back to the writing and self-publishing process. See you next time.
Bob: So . . . does this mean we’re breaking up?