Characteristics of a Hero
So, as you can imagine from last week’s blog post, I’ve been thinking quite a bit this week on exactly what makes a hero. We all know a hero when we see one, but what exactly are the characteristics that make someone a hero? Is there a reason why an accountant couldn’t be the hero of my romance novel as I had originally written it?
The short answer is, of course, no. There’s no reason why my hero can’t be an accountant. Accountants can certainly be heroic. It was just that my accountant wasn’t. He was much too ordinary. He was meticulous and single-minded in his quest to get funding for a company he wanted to start. He did have a few heroic tendencies in that he wanted to help the downtrodden, the poor of India. He also was determined to do right by his father who had done nothing but insult him and tell him how worthless he was. So, he was a good man, he just wasn’t good enough.
What makes someone good enough to be a hero?
It takes being larger-than-life. He needs to dominate a room when he walks into it. Yes, when my new hero walks into a ballroom for the first time, all eyes turn to him. Women’s fans flutter in anticipation, men stand up taller wondering who this new interloper is. Everyone wants to meet him.
Not only is he handsome, he’s nice. Everyone, including me, wants to be his friend. But while that’s true, I need to be sure that he’s not a “Mary Sue” – someone so nice that people start to hate him. There is nothing worse than someone so perfect you just want to punch them in the face and give them a black eye to make them a little less perfect.
So my hero also has to have flaws. He is reckless and impulsive. Yes, he does such things from the goodness of his heart, but still, things need to be thought out before being acted upon. He doesn’t do that thinking. He’s just out to help people and have fun—consequences be damned.
What I’ve defined for you is the stereotypical hero, but naturally, all heroes don’t need to be that way. They can be more flawed than not—a dark hero or a tragic one. We can have the ordinary or the accountant, but he needs to be big enough to carry the weight of the label hero. Or we could have a wounded hero—someone with a chip on their shoulder.
What they all have in common, though, is that they are more, more than your average person. That ‘more’ can be good or bad, but it needs to be there all the same. They need to have that charisma that draws people to them or proves that they are so much more than what they seem.
No matter where your hero begins the story, you also need to remember that they need to change by the end of it. My hero who doesn’t think first is going to learn that it’s a good idea to do so. Conversely, my heroine who thinks too much needs to learn to let go and follow her heart—it’s why they make such an excellent match.
The most fascinating thing—to me—is that your antagonist, if they are a person (and not society, the weather, or even the hero themselves) should have many of the same qualities as the hero. The only distinction is that the antagonist is doing everything they can to stop the protagonist from achieving his goal. They still need to be bold and charismatic. They need to be strong and brave (to stand up to the protagonist). And while perhaps they don’t need to be as likable as the hero, they certainly need to have what I call “fuzzy socks”, meaning that they need to have some redeeming qualities. Fuzzy socks refers to that warm, comforting feeling you get on a cold winter night when you put on a pair of fuzzy socks.
And before I finish, let me just say a word about names. Naming your hero (or any character) can be extremely difficult. You need a name that not only matches the culture or nationality of the person but their time period as well. A name that conjures the person’s characteristics is a bonus. The genre you write in will help determine the names you give your characters, but be careful not to give your character a name that is too outlandish or unpronounceable.
When I named a character Beatrice and wanted her to be called by the first syllable of her name I deliberately spelled it “Bee” rather than the more accurate spelling of “Bea” just to ensure that people pronounced it correctly in their mind.
I scour lists of names of people who lived in the time period in which I write to ensure that my characters’ names are appropriate because there is nothing worse than coming across a name that throws your reader out of the story because it is so out of place. And I cannot stress enough how important names are to readers—I recently decided not to buy a book because of the name given to the hero. It was an entirely made-up name, one that didn’t exist in the actual place or time period of the book. It wasn’t a name that said “hero” to me, so I knew that if I read the book I wouldn’t think well of the protagonist no matter what qualities the author gave him.
Have you come across any names or heroes that you simply could not read?
Do remember that in my other hat I am an editor and coach. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you need help with your work.