Saturday, November 19, 2016

Three elements of a good hero

Some fictional heroes are good.  They resonate with us and inspire us long after we have finished reading or watching.  Luke Skywalker, for example.

Other heroes aren't so good.  They're forgettable or, even worse, turn us off to the point where we abandon the book or walk out of the theater.

So what makes the difference?  I think it's three things:

1.)  The hero should be a decent human being.  He shouldn't be a dick.  He shouldn't be cruel.  He should have a conscience.  He should be motivated by positive, uplifting desires, what is best in all of us.  Basically, he should be a role model, more or less.  Most readers would rather be inspired than stare into the abyss.

2.)  The hero must be sufficiently challenged.  If the obstacles of the plot are too easily surmounted, then the story is boring.  Anyone can "overcome" when it's easy.  Heroes overcome when it's hard.  That's what makes them heroic in the first place.  If your hero never fails, or never gets injured, then you're doing it wrong.  Luke Skywalker got beaten and knocked out by Sand People, was thrown across the cantina by ruffians, got zapped by the Force-training remote on the Falcon, and was strangled and half-drowned by the garbage monster before he actually accomplished anything important.  In short, he took his licks.  Make sure your hero does, too.

3.)  The hero must solve the main plot.  Too many books end in cliffhangers nowadays.  I don't like it.  I think it's disrespectful to the reader.  If a reviewer mentions that a book ends in a cliffhanger, then I won't download the book.  It's as simple as that.  I want stories with beginnings, middles, and ends.  If you must have a hook at the end for the next book, then do it in the form of an epilogue.  But always solve the main plot.  Give the reader a satisfying conclusion first.  Then you can hook him for another book.

These seem like pretty simple criteria.  And I suppose they are.  But I'm constantly seeing authors who flout one or more of them.  Those authors are often oblivious as to why their works aren't more popular.  I think such authors would find that adhering to these three rules would make a world of difference in their books' success.

I've been guilty of breaking these rules myself.  Writing good craft is a never-ending struggle.  But I know my weaknesses, and that's the first step in overcoming them.  Hopefully my readers will think I've succeeded.


  1. To be honest I don't think a good hero has to be motivated by uplifting things, or that Luke Skywalker counts. Besides that, Luke's motivations started with boredom, and he angsted his way through a lot of his story. Compare and contrast Han Solo, motivated by self-interest but still a decent guy, and he came through when his friends needed help in spite of rather serious consequences for himself. Han Solo sticks with people far better than Luke Skywalker, especially before Lucas's bonehead retcon of having Greedo shoot first.

  2. Hi, supervillainsomeday, and thanks for the comment. :)

    I agree that Han is cooler than Luke, but I don't think Han makes a better hero. A better anti-hero, sure. But that's a whole different archetype, and heroes and antiheroes aren't interchangeable. It all comes back to the monomyth, and that is rooted in some very primitive psychological ground. Because of that, I think the hero archetype is a lot more limited than many people would like to believe. I think a lot of what we call "heroes" actually aren't. In fact, Clint Eastwood recently said something similar when speaking about his film Sully.

    Anyway, just my opinion. ;)

    Of course, we can all agree on Lucas's boneheadedness. At this point, I think he's just messing with us out of spite. I think he truly despises his fans, and it's sad.