What Makes a Hero
Welcome back to the blog. As mentioned last week, there are many ways for a writer to present a villain. However, none of these types matter if there is no one to meet the villain head on. For that, writers need to be able to form a hero as complex and detailed as the villain they oppose.
How To Be Good
As mentioned last week, conflict is the center of all stories, and having characters as opposing forces is the most common approach to this. These characters are the antagonist and protagonist, but neither term applies only to hero or villain, merely to differentiate between the main character and his/her opposite. However, these characters most have essential differences, or else the conflict is weak and the story will fail. And above all else, they must appear as or become equals or their conflict will fall apart. One such example comes from a wrestling stable, World Championship Wrestling’s New World Order. The NWO began as a dominant invading group, but as more and more joined, the heroic forces dwindled until fans were unable to believe that any could defeat the NWO and fans lost interest in the group. So equality is as vital as conflict, which comes into play with many heroic examples.
The Rookie/Unlikely Hero
A classic example, a rookie hero is someone that at first glance, seems too inexperienced or unskilled to be of any use. However, this character, who often will have personal doubts as well, will demonstrate qualities, generally leadership or know-how, that show he or she has the potential to rise up and defeat the far superior forces. This is a classic example due to the easy-to-root-for underdog quality, and can be cited in Star Wars (Luke Skywalker) and Shawn Of The Dead (Shawn). Sports films often take this route as well, but can have the opposing force be another team or player and/or personal or social issues (Rudy, 42)
This type of hero can be the most intriguing type for a writer to explore. These types of heroes usually strive to do the right thing, but face inner turmoil and conflict due to their past, their actions, or what those actions cost. As a result, the reader, who has had experience with conflict, relates to them better, and watches and hopes for them to overcome their conflict and find peace. As this character is genuinely relatable and also easy to root for, examples can be seen in mainstream characters like Spider-Man to less well known characters, such as Tanis Half-Elven of the Dragonlance Chronicles.
Another common type of hero, this is usually a villain that is seeking to recant for past endeavors. However, redemption can take different forms. It can be a desire to make up for previous inaction, or a situation in which the characters regrets not acting differently. This desire often informs the character’s action, causing them to act in a way that mirrors their inner desire to be redeemed. Again, Spider-Man is a good example, as his superhero career stems from his inaction at stopping a criminal that later killed his Uncle Ben. Many comic characters have similar motives; it has been argued that Batman’s agenda stems from being unable to save his parents as a child. But many other examples exist, such as Boromir from Lord of the Rings, who briefly takes on these characteristics when he is possessed by the Ring and dies saving others. A somewhat arguable example is Death from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, who becomes more and more enamored of humanity, to the point where he becomes a Santa Claus like figure in order to maintain human belief and maintain existence.
A personal favorite, and one that somewhat blurs the line between villain and hero, this is a character that has heroic goals but goes about them in a less then heroic manner. But as this character has a goal that readers can sympathize with, and usually a tragic even to set it all into motion, their actions manage to be more morally gray then evil. Some are still considered to be classic heroes, like Batman, who fights crime with fear and intimidation. Check out my pieces on The Crow and Darkman for more in depth looks at classic anti-heroes.
The ideas of heroes and villains both carry a story when done properly. For a hero to work, he or she must be identifiable and relatable to the reader. The types listed above work because the reader can understand them, whether it be their need for redemption or the anger that pushes them towards a darker justice. But no matter their reasoning, when done well, they are epic symbols that stand up to face the evil figure that waits for them on the other side of the page. But there is one further thing that can define these characters, which we will get into next week.