What Is a Hero?

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There are superheroes, classical heroes, everyday heroes, and heroes in training. Everywhere you go, and every time you read, you find more of them. They’re easy to recognize, but how do you write them? Heroism shapes your protagonists, your secondary characters, and even helpful revision tools. Don’t believe us? Keep reading.

Convention vs. Invention

Genres grew into the literary landscape for a reason. They help guide readers towards books with similar themes, plots, or characters they know they enjoy. There is nothing wrong with this. Nothing at all! Genre only becomes a problem when it restricts your writing and gives you lazy shortcuts around original development. Heroes suffer from conventional stereotypes the most. They come out as cookie-cutter forms, static and bland. There’s a reason why so many readers fall in love with the villains and secondary characters, after all. Just think of how many people love Han Solo more than Luke Skywalker.

Think of genre as a diving board. Use it to springboard yourself into the story, but don’t spend your entire time at the pool just standing there, staring at the water. Writing a sword and sorcery narrative? What have you always wanted to see in those stories that no other author gave you? Read outside the genre you’re writing in to gather fresh ideas and gain new perspectives. Visiting well-established paths is fine, but give the readers something new to see, and take time to explore the dustier corners of your imagination.

Heroes Aren’t Always Shiny

Stories have protagonists and antagonists. In many classic fairytales (at least the Disney versions), the hero represents all that is good while the villain represents all that is evil. As a writer, you should try to escape this stark dualism. Your primary character is your protagonist, your hero, no matter how good or bad that primary character may be. Your story’s hero could be the world’s enemy. It’s up to them.

Generally, the best heroes fall somewhere between the gleaming ideal of a knight in shining armor and the mustache-twirling villain. You can certainly write some very good, chivalrous knights and some truly nefarious monsters, but remember that the majority of readers can’t relate perfectly to either trope.

Humans are fallible, and they appreciate characters that are, too. That’s why many of the greatest myths feature clear lessons or failures based on the protagonist’s weaknesses. Pride goes before a fall, and we make our own monsters.

Remember the Rest of the Cast

A story may have more than one hero. Yes, we just established that your primary character is the story’s “hero,” but it’s a complex word with multiple meanings. The Harry Potter series does a marvelous job juggling heroes. You have Harry, the titular hero, but then you have the Weasleys, Hermoine, Sirius Black, and (arguably) Snape.

If you find a secondary character who just doesn’t seem to do much for the story, stop and ask this question: What does this hero do? This guides you back to the plot and ties in secondary storylines. People in your story cannot just be a hero because you say so. They must do heroic things. Heroism is action, especially in the wonderful world of writing.

Remember, a hero doesn’t have to save the day. Maybe they save the hour, the wedding cake, or their own sanity. You probably know some real life heroes. If you put them to paper, they may very well save the story.

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