Sunday, August 14, 2011

Writing the Hero (Without a Cape)

Heroes are tough for me to write. I think it’s because I’ve never known one. At least not in the traditional sense. Sometimes I hear a t.v. news anchor refer to someone as “a hero.” The moniker does get one’s attention. I admit, I want to see what a hero looks like. But it’s always just some Joe Schmoe (usually soaking wet or covered in ash) who says, “Me? A hero? I was only doing what anyone else would do in that situation.” For me, that willingness to be self-sacrificing is the one characteristic all good heroes share.

Think about it. Darcy sacrifices society for love. Heathcliff sacrifices his own happiness for Kathy’s. Katniss sacrifices her safety for her sister’s. Harry sacrifices his life for his friends’.

But if you stop there, you end up with someone who’s just too good to believe, and maybe even too good to love.

I think it was Donald Maass who recommended giving the villain one of the characteristics you like best about yourself. I guess the reverse would be good advice for writing the hero. Take a good hard look at yourself. What is the one thing that you wish you could change? What is the one thing you’re most embarrassed about? Giving your hero a flaw, makes him/her not only more believable, but also more relatable and--ultimately--more lovable.

You don't have to dig too far to remember that Darcy is a snob, Heathcliff is a brute, Katniss is cold and aloof, and Harry is reckless, if not just a little self-righteous.

So I guess that’s what makes a good hero. They don’t have to save the world from an out-of-control meteor. And for God’s sake they should never wear capes. (Just ask Edna.) The best hero is your average Joe or Josephine. Maybe they lie, cheat, and steal. Maybe they fart at the table. But when it comes right down to it, a hero puts others’ needs before his or her own. And that, right there, is someone we can all get behind.

1 comment:

  1. mean...*removes cape from hero*...I mean...GREAT POST! :)