How should this character achieve redemption?


I’m building a character whose goal is redemption, and I just can’t figure out what would be the “ahah” moment that would let him fight for a nobler cause.

For context, my character is an apathetic soldier who can’t feel anything when killing people - armed or unarmed - and was used as a killing machine by leaders. (He was never abused and was rather treated with reverence since everyone just thought that he was brave.) After he won the war and was no longer needed on the battlefield, he felt empty to the point that he abandoned his title, sold all his properties, and started wandering aimlessly.

I’m thinking of him having a fateful meeting with someone who would give a new aim to his life. This person would motivate him preferably indirectly into joining a rebel army that tries to overthrow the country’s tyrannical rulers.

However, I’m not sure what type of person and which event between them would trigger the soldier’s enlightenment. How can this person reach an apathetic ‘mass murder’ and make him feel something without this story turning into romance or a drama?

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe it would be more realistic if the soldier remains somewhat apathetic til the end of the story. He’ll be more humane but still not as emotional as most people.

Thank you!

The soldier’s mother died from a disease when he was very young. His father wanted him to inherit his manual job and never gave him any choice. His father then died in the midst of a civil war (but he wasn’t a participant). Because his father didn’t show him much affection, the character didn’t feel sad either. Because of poverty, he then joined the army.



Children change lives.

I think you can carry out the soldier’s redemption through a child’s positive influence. Maybe after seeing the horrors of war, your protagonist becomes inexplicably drawn to one of the many victims of the leaders you previously mentioned.

Maybe the kid’s family was killed because of the greed said leaders possess, and they wanted his/her family’s property so they could use its resources. For example, if these leaders come from a country with a capitalist economy, they might kill the family to take control of their home if a valuable resource --say, oil-- was discovered in their backyard.

The soldier forms an odd yet tentative bond with the orphan, and takes it upon himself to watch over the kid. Not because he’s nice or because he sympathizes with him, but because he’s curious about the leaders’ actions and finds it interesting that they would go through so much trouble to obtain the resource.

It’s an idea that wouldn’t turn your book into a romance, and it wouldn’t turn it into a drama, either. It could be a mystery or an action and adventure filled journey!


It’s an interesting premise. A soldier like that would be a true believer in the leaders who sent him to war. The initial turning point would have to be before giving up his title. For a fateful meeting to occur later, there would already need to be some doubt.


Ooh, that’s a good point! I didn’t think of that!

After all, it wouldn’t make sense to break your loyalty out of the blue.

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The use of a child could work, but it would have to be something more than an orphan. The soldier has been exposed to human suffering of all ages and wouldn’t bring a moment of reflection unless it were closer to home. It could be a niece or nephew thought dead.

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That’s a great point, and I think it would depend on the soldier’s motivation for joining the army. Yeah, I wasn’t clear about that part. The soldier actually joined the army because he was orphaned and poor and armies paid well at that time. He didn’t care about politics or loyalty (at least, not loyalty to some ideology).

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Maybe the orphan thing can hit close to home?

Human beings are social creatures, a person can only go so long without meaningful interaction, and it would make sense if he took the kid under his wing out of curiosity, not goodness. He might even regard the child as a nuisance, but puts up with him/her out of his personal interest in the reasons behind the kid’s family’s deaths.


Does he know how he was orphaned?

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Yes, I was about to reply to your reply lol.

I was actually also thinking that the most likely bond he would form would be with a child. However, I’m not sure about what would be the event that would trigger the soldier to join the rebels’ army.

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The solider knew he was orphaned. That’s why he joined the military, for the pay and benefits that came with joining it.

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His mother died soon after his birth due to a disease, and his father was killed in the midst of a civil war, but he wasn’t a participant. However, the soldier was rather distant from his father and didn’t feel much about his death. His father did raise him, but he was more the quiet, distant sort. So, like father, like son, I guess.

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The side he had been serving killed his family and they blamed it on the rebels. The child could be a niece or nephew, which leads to the soldier joining the rebels.

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I agree that a young child could play a significant role in the soldier’s arc, especially if he bonds to the child, and said child is then killed by his own soldiers.

This could be anyone though - a lover, a friend, an elderly man.



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Well, as @BobRyan874 previously mentioned, there must already be a seed of doubt planted in his mind.

You don’t just abandon years of training, brainwashing and loyalty overnight. Something must have happened that made him dwell on the state of things regarding politics. If he’s a man of color or low class, maybe mirroring his past with the bad treatment of other countries (I’m assuming these leaders like sticking their noses where they don’t belong. I’m looking at you, America) and making them parallel to the child’s suffering will further the doubt/dislike he already has for his superiors.


He could find his father alive and being held by his leaders. He may not have cared much for his father, but it may be enough to cause him to start his quest towards the rebels.

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An elderly man who knows too much :skull:


I was also considering killing the child, but do you think this would be too dramatic? Or does it depend on the writing style?


To bring the character development full circle, killing the child would be a great way to demonstrate if the man’s change is permanent.

I mean, you can’t go wrong either way. If the kid doesn’t die, then the solider now has a different reason to live and has a much better alternative to serving cruel leaders.


Actually, I believe it’s a more spiritual reason. He left the army because the war is over. He doesn’t need to kill anymore, but the only thing he has known in his life is killing without a second thought and for others. He feels empty to the point that he sees no value in anything, but he also cannot feel guilt toward anything he has done. He doesn’t seek to redeem himself so just wanders aimlessly.

Is this realistic enough?