Long before John Newton wrote the hymn “Amazing Grace,” he was a pretty despicable man. He was a troublemaker as a sailor. He participated in the slave trade. As he put it:
“How industrious is Satan served. I was formerly one of his active undertemptors and had my influence been equal to my wishes I would have carried all the human race with me. A common drunkard or profligate is a petty sinner to what I was.”
But he eventually changed his ways and redeemed himself by writing one of the most influential hymns of all time. In the Methodist hymnal, it’s right there on page one.
Every redemption is a good one, naturally. But in storytelling, the most compelling redemptions are ones like Newton’s. If I was writing a screenplay about Newton’s life, it would be much more moving than if I was writing about someone who was born a good person and then lived a normal, good life. You’re more emotionally invested in Newton’s story because you want him to turn his life around and you’re happy when he indeed does.
That’s why Annie Grace, the main character in “Signs and Wonders,” is not a nice person when you meet her on page one. I guarantee that you will not like her. But I also guarantee that you will cheer her on as she starts to turn her life around.
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