Friday, June 24, 2011

Redemption vs. Worthiness

By Peg Brantley, Writer at Work, Stumbling Toward Publication

A very large—and long—discussion regarding the Edgar awards and gender bias on the SinC (Sisters in Crime) loop kind of drilled down (in my mind anyway) to this theory I find intriguing.

Men, because they pretty much know they are dogs and capable of doing horrible things, write about a human who seeks redemption.

Women, on the other hand, consider themselves underdogs and write about a human who seeks affirmation and worthiness. Legally Blonde or Stephanie Plum fit in here.

If all things are equal—quality of writing, characterization, etc.—one story will feel serious while the other feels fluffy, and the deeper one is more likely to garner positive attention from judges of the serious minded awards (such as the Edgars). And often, that attention translates to readers as well.

Another element that I think could easily impact an author's natural tendency to either write redemption or worthiness is the age of the author. A young person would probably lean toward a character who must prove himself. An older writer might lean toward redemption.

The loop discussion morphed rather quickly from the gender of the author to the gender of the lead character, which is an entirely different animal.

I know this is painting with a very broad brush, but I find the idea of an author's gender influencing his or her natural development of their characters intriguing.

What do you think?


  1. I think one has to separate the age/gender of the protagonist from the that of the author. And, in my opinion, one approach is not fluffier/deeper/better than other.

  2. I don't know. Whether one is male or female, I don't think you can paint everyone with the same brush. We're all products of our individual experiences. I'm a man, and I tend to blend all the above mentioned qualities. I think characters are extensions of ourselves, and we write them accordingly.

    Btw, Dogs? Don't be hating on the men, now ;)

  3. Marilyn, maybe you should judge the Edgars!

    Drew, that was the theory put forth on the loop for discussion. I do find it intriguing. The words aren't mine, but dogs and underdogs sort of helped the description.

    As a reader, I tend to like the redemption stories a bit more. We all have made mistakes in our lives, and I find I can relate to those flawed characters (male and female) who are trying to atone for something terrible.

  4. Peg, I like redemption stories more, too. For the same reason you do. A lot of times when someone is trying to prove themselves (worthiness) it comes across as trying too hard and it really puts me off.

    Drew, a lot of men are dogs and a lot of women are bi... uh, female dogs. :)

  5. Interesting post, Peg. If I were to try to characterize fictional characters and their goals with broad strokes, the word "redemption" wouldn't come to mind at all. I mostly read thrillers and romantic suspense, and in those, it's a male or female character threatened by a villain or faced with a huge problem that they need to tackle and solve, for their own survival but also to save other innocent victims. These characters find themselves drawing on inner courage and resources they didn't know they had in order to thwart evil, and in the end they triumph over adversity and are stronger and more confident because of it. I think a lot of readers really like this theme because we like to think that if we were attacked or threatened by evil, we could fight back successfully and win, too. So I'd call that "summoning all your inner strength and resources to triumph over adversity" rather than "seeking redemption." Can't think of a word that would cover that challenge/quest right at the moment. Anyone?

  6. I was just thinking about this, because my new thriller has two main characters. One is seeking redemption and one is seeking worthiness, but the genders are the opposite of what you would assume, with the female seeking redemption and the male seeking worthiness. I like to mix it up. Great post.

  7. First time commenting on this blog page; following a link from ACFW's suspense loop.

    As a male (Jeff doing the typing), I actually like both the redemptive theme and the worthwhile theme. I love stories about people proving themselves (e.g. movies like "Dave", "Without A Clue", "Space Camp", "Galaxy Quest", and one of my favorite movies, "Never A Dull Moment," where an actor played by Dick Van Dyke tries to convince a crime boss that he's the hitman he hired).



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