I’ve been doing a lot of character development lately. It’s my new favorite aspect of writing. I’ve been reading a lot about the different Myers-Briggs types (and yes, each of my twelve main characters is a different type), delving into backstories, and figuring out their inner motivations.
My latest endeavor is to answer this question: What is it that drives them? What are they seeking, and hoping to find? These questions are closely connected to their inner motivations. Of course, all of them are driven by something different. No one is quite desiring the exact same thing, although they share the same external goal for the story. They all have different histories, and different character arcs. Every single one of them has a unique internal longing.
That being said, of course some of them will be similar. For example, and this is the main point of this post, two of my characters are seeking almost the same thing. I’ll call them Character A and Character B, for the sake of character-author confidentiality. For some odd reason, most of my characters have a habit of having intricate, secretive backgrounds which somehow always end up playing vital roles in future stories that haven’t been written yet. So, for the sake of a spoiler-free post, I will tell you their stories but not who they are. Get to the point, you say. What do these two characters want?
One of them is seeking salvation, while the other is seeking redemption. I had to stop and think about this after I wrote it. Don’t the two words mean the same thing? More often than not, they are used synonymously, especially when referring to the Christian faith. But no… they are not really synonyms. The root of the word “salvation” is “save,” and the root of “redemption” is “redeem.” Redeeming someone is very different from saving someone. Saving someone implies protecting them. From danger, perhaps. From death, even. Saving implies rescuing. But nothing more.
Redeeming someone, on the other hand, is more than just rescuing someone. Redemption involves a price. If you redeem something, you are buying it back. If you redeem something, it is yours. But it always comes at a price.
It’s easy to see why the two words are used synonymously when referring to Christ. Jesus, through his life, death, and resurrection, gave us both salvation and redemption. He saved us from death – by taking sin upon himself – and serving the punishment for that sin: death. And because he paid that price for us, he redeemed us from sin. He bought us back to be his own. And now, if we believe in him, we not only are saved from death, but we belong to him. We are his children.
In the cases of Character A and Character B, one of them is seeking redemption, but the other is seeking salvation. This too is easy to see. Character A grew up in a dysfunctional family. As a child and teen he was abused – both physically and emotionally – by his parents. He was bullied by other children. He was wronged in a lot of ways, and this traumatic past has shaped the rest of his life. He doesn’t trust anyone but himself, not even God. In fact, he wonders if God exists at all. He wants salvation.
Character B, on the other hand, is haunted by a past she no longer wants any part of. She’s made mistakes; she’s been lured in by sin’s enticing temptations. Her sin hurt the people in the world she loved most, not to mention herself. She’s mad at God and feels she doesn’t belong anywhere, not even in the shelter of God’s love. She wants redemption.
So there you have the difference between redemption and salvation. Salvation is a rescue; redemption is a purchase. Character development is definitely one of the harder things about writing, but it’s also one of the most fun and rewarding aspects too.
My favorite resources for developing a character’s backstory or motivations are the Emotional Wound Thesaurus and the Character Motivation Thesaurus (both are from Writers Helping Writers. I’m very excited because The Emotional Wound Thesaurus is going to be released sometime this October!!) Even if you don’t need them as writing resources, check them out anyway. They’re awesome.
A character’s journey, for me, quickly becoming more important than the plot of the story. It makes sense… the characters are the ones interacting with the plot. A lot of the time, the characters are the ones creating the plot in the first place. What would Pride and Prejudice be if Darcy wasn’t so proud in the beginning and therefore had no character arc? Or think about how the numerous plots of Downton Abbey would be different if none of the characters had distinct backgrounds, motivations, and personalities. No story would be the same without these elements. Characters are one of the primary driving sources behind any story.