Friday, January 30, 2015

Strike a Heroic Pose

Today was a rough day. Not too bad, just the typical kind of give-you-a-headache-that-feels-like-an-ice-pick-entering-your-eye day. Nothing to worry about, but still, I think I'd like a hero today.

Two weeks ago I talked about the importance of a good villain. NOTE: even though I framed it in terms of traditional villainy, what I said also applies to other kinds of villains, like disease, economic trouble, natural disasters, etc. Whatever your hero has to deal with needs to be powerful enough that to overcome it requires true heroism.

So, first things first: what is a hero? Lots of different definitions for that one. Webster's dictionary lists three:

he·ro

noun \ˈhir-(ˌ)ō\
: a person who is admired for great or brave acts or fine qualities
: a person who is greatly admired
: the chief male character in a story, play, movie, etc.

This seems right to me. A person who is admired for great or brave acts:

 This is especially relevant after the latest movie.

A person who is greatly admired:

 Also, any real-life person who is greatly admired.

Or the chief male character in a story, play, or movie (a female lead is a heroine, technically, though for my purposes I will use the word for both):

Thought about showing a character from The Lord of the Rings here, but there were too many heroes.

Now that that's settled, why is the hero important? Well, this is the person the story is about. The person your readers are supposed to care about and root for. This is the person who has to overcome your villain.

Again: the villain is important because the greater the problem to surmount, the greater the hero looks. Think about the top three examples. What is each one fighting against? Why does that struggle make them great? Katniss is fighting against a government that has been powerful enough to put down any uprising over the last 75 years. Also, their leader is a very intelligent, ruthless man. Atticus Finch fights against a prejudice that is so strong that even in the face of cold, blatant logic, it still wins. But I would argue that what Atticus wins in To Kill a Mockingbird (the respect of his children) may be worth more in the story's context. And Harry? He battles against, ultimately, a dark wizard who has cheated death for many years and has an army of sadistic followers. Try this with any hero you like. You'll see the same thing.

What else should a good hero be? Likeable. Relatable. At least, to a point. I've read books with unrelatable heroes that somehow work because they're funny. But there has to be something that keeps the reader engaged in this person's story. Sometimes it's not much. One book I read had a hero who was angry, violent, and self-isolating. But he had a lot of love for his brother, and that was enough for me to get to the end and find out why he was the way he was.

NOTE: this doesn't mean the hero is a saint. Personally, I like people who are generally good guys, but the hero could be a serial killer (Dexter) or just a total anti-hero who does the right thing for the wring reasons, or vice-versa.

I'll have to post in the future about anti-heroes. They're fascinating.

The hero also can't be infallible. They need a weakness or something to make it unclear if they can win. I have issues with Superman because he's too powerful. When the hero can easily beat anything, where's the drama? The hero needs to have weaknesses or insecurities to overcome along with the villain (heck, they might even be the villain), and to increase their likability. We relate to and like people who aren't perfect. We have a tendency to root for the underdog. That can be helpful to a person trying to create a likable hero.

Last: a hero needs to be a person. A real human person with quirks and flaws and strengths and everything. Think about yourself or the people you know. How would you react if you had to stop an evil wizard? Defend a racial minority in a skewed trial? Take down a corrupt government? If you contracted a terminal disease? Had your city flooded? Real, human emotions are what make heroes strong. They look like us, act like us. They are us, they way we wish we could become someday.

That's what I think make heroes so important. They are what inspire us to do better in our own lives. I think that, at least, deserves some effort and thought when creating them.

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