Want to Make a Read-Worthy Hero?
Writing Experts Weigh In. Plus, Other Than, a Book Spotlight
As writers and readers, we all know our heroes have to be more than stick figures, but how do we flesh them out?
Once we’ve invented a character’s past, charted his or her motivations and aspirations, and perhaps jotted down a physical appearance, what should we think about?
Jack Bickham in “Writing Novels That Sell,” says: “Good characters are not real people. They are exaggerated — they’re bigger than life — broadly exaggerated in many respect so that the reader, viewing the character as through a smoked glass, can easily detect the most salient characteristics.”
So, we go back and add to their habits, appearance and personality quirks.
Bickham also says, heroes “are more goal-oriented.” They desire something fervently and they take action to get it.
Many writing experts echo this admonition. In “The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing,” Evan Marshall advises, “Define your lead’s goal.” After you do, your hero should be ready to go. Right?
But what if you’re writing more of a mythic adventure story? How do you construct a hero that draws a reader into your adventurous tale?
James N. Frey, in “The Key: How to Write Damn Good Fiction Using the Power of Myth,” says that “the hero of a myth-based fiction has certain qualities that attract a reader and will not have other qualities that readers find repellant. These [positive] qualities are time-tested …. and heroic qualities have been proven over several millennia of testing to attract readers like honey attracts bear.”
So, what are some of those heroic qualities? Glad you asked. Frey devotes a whole chapter to these Mythic Hero Must-Haves.
Thirteen Things about Frey’s Suggestions in Constructing a Hero
Here are 13 of Frey’s Suggestions in Constructing a Hero.
1) Courage. Readers can’t identify with a coward.
2) The hero is clever and resourceful. (As a reader, I know I want my heroes to be competent and skillful.)
3) The hero lives by his own rules and may not quite fit into society. He may be a James Dean, or a Holden Caulfield type or he might be a Fox Mulder, who is different because of his belief in the supernatural. Or a Ray Kinsella, the Iowa farmer who decides to build a baseball diamond in his cornfield. (If you build it, they will come!) He doesn’t conform and he’s not reluctant to carve out his own path.
4) The hero has a special talent. James N. Frey says this quality helps interest the reader in the main character. This talent makes the character special. For example, in “Willow,” Willow Ufgood does sleight of hand tricks. Later, he’s able to save the princess, Elora Danan, using one of his tricks.
5) The hero is good at his job.
6) The hero is a protagonist. At some point in the story, he takes charge after making plans to affect the story’s outcome.
7) The hero is wounded, hurt in some way. Frey says that this wound, whether physical, spiritual or psychological, makes the hero human so that we as readers can relate to him.
8) The hero is motivated by idealism or altruism. It’s hard to respect, or to get involved, with a selfish hero.
9) The hero is attractive. My friends who advocate that the hero be a hunk are right, according to Frey,
10) The hero is loyal.
11) The hero may be able to deal with pain and hardship stoically.
12) The hero may think a lot of himself — after all, he’s a hero.
13) The hero may be a wise guy. He may crack jokes like Spiderman.
Frey has other hero considerations and a wealth of other helpful advice in his book, “The Key,” but, I’m going to stop and ask you what other qualities you think a hero should have? And for those who enjoy playing the devil’s advocate, can you name heroes who don’t share at least some of these qualities?
I’ll be happy to hear from you.
When I wrote Other Than, a Gaslamp Fantasy, which reads like an uber Gothic Romance, I tried to give my heroine many of Frey’s qualities. She’s loyal, good at her job, and has just lost her father. In addition, she’s brave, clever and resourceful, but she’s in way over her head.
Here’s the blurb that explains her situation and an excerpt to boot.
It only takes one drink from the Water of Immortality to kill Evie Woods—halfway. Trapped in undead flesh, the world’s last skin-slider wakens on an island purgatory where a cursed spring bubbles with immortality, and zombie cannibals crave living flesh.
Her only hope of escape rests in the hands of the one man who would see her fail. Bound to her by cords stronger than death, Lord Victor Lowell is both the man of her dreams, and her darkest nightmares. Contrary and intractable, Victor preys on others to maintain his angelic charisma and preternatural prowess. Drawn to the compellingly gallant and vulnerable soul behind his mercurial humors, Evie can only watch as protecting her forces Victor to sacrifice yet more of himself to the ancient evil long tethered to his soul.
Trapped in an ever-escalating war they can’t stop, Victor and Evie fight time for a cure, but as the long days pass blackness tears at Evie, ripping her thoughts from her one memory at a time. Victor will to do whatever it takes to prevent her from deteriorating into a rotting husk, even if it means dooming himself, but Evie won’t surrender his soul without a fight. Battle lines drawn, the soul mates resolve to find redemption or die trying.
He materialized in the inky shadow.
Or rather his apparition did. His ghostly frame hovered before her, sinuous and lithe. Against his shadowed form, the string glimmered like liquid silver. Slowly he unwrapped her, tossing the spectral bands to the floor until a coil lay between him and her.
Something inside her chest fluttered. “You followed me.”
He nodded. With a slight shrug, he spread his hands. “You shouldn’t be alone.”
She wanted to turn, giving him her back, but her betraying gaze remained fixated upon him. When he paced around her, she waved him away. “Don’t.”
He caught her hand and placed an insubstantial kiss in her palm. “Let me help you…please.”
A gallant gesture, perhaps, but her skin-slider sensitivity noted the rigidity of his stance, the twitch along his jaw, and the slight narrowing of his eyes. How could he think of helping her when he was in so much pain?
Ordinarily, she might be grateful. Might…if loss hadn’t hollowed her.
She ripped her cooling flesh from his spectral arms. “I don’t deserve kindness.”
“Good.” He gave her a rakish smirk. “Because I’m not kind.”
She shook her head, biting back the emerging smile that had no place on her countenance. She couldn’t be civil, couldn’t risk the involvement. “I can’t go on like this—stuck betwixt life and death.”
“You must. Don’t you see, sweet dove? You’re beyond both. You’re immortal. Like me.”
If you’d like to check out Other Than, you can find it at these links.
If you’d like to connect with Mia Jo Celeste, you can find her at these links.
Amazon author page amazon.com/author/miaceleste
Facebook fb.me/ Mia.Jo.Celeste