Friday, February 15, 2008

What Makes A Hero, Part 4: A Hero Should be Heroic

Since I started this little series I've been lucky enough to have some very interesting discussions about the qualities of a hero, and what people look for, and how characters you might not think of as being a hero or posessing heroic qualities still do have them.

But the essence of a hero is, he is heroic. Above all.

He may not see himself that way. He may not even want to be so (from Personal Demons):

She let him help her up and watched while he extinguished the fire. “Thanks,” she said. “For helping me shield, and bringing me here. It was…thanks.”
“Always happy to help.”
“My hero.”
His fingertips brushed her cheek, so softly she would have doubted the touch if she hadn’t seen his hand move. “I’m not interested in being a hero,” he said.

But somehow, at some point, he is.

For an example, I've decided to stop quoting myself here and go with a character from Richelle Mead's Succubus Blues, Seth Mortensen. (Hope you don't mind being my guinea pig, Richelle!)Because Seth is such a quiet hero, shy and unassuming, and it's easy to see him as something less than the dynamic type I've been discussing.

He's not, though. His introduction to the MC, Georgina, is a classic example of a character standing out by not standing out. And yet he is so skillfully written we are still intrigued, by his caffeine-free drinks, his mild manner, his interest in Georgina. And throughout the book, although Seth never gets flashy or loud, and isn't really presented with any sort of life-or-death intrigue until the end, he still exhibits every heroic quality I listed. He just goes about them a different way, which is the essence of characterization.

See, heroic deeds mean different things to different people. In some books the hero must slay an army to be heroic; in others, he simply has to take dancing lessons or accept the unbelievable. The point is, he's risking something. He's taking a chance, whether it's on love or saving the world.

We hear so much about characterization, and the need to make your characters larger-than-life if you want to pull in readers. This is true. But larger-than-life means different things to different people, and that's where your particular characterization and writing skill comes in. Everyday acts can be heroic if the character needs to overcome something to do them (again, look at Adrian Monk. Leaving the house is a heroic deed for him.)

But there must be risk. There must be a sense of obstacles overcome. In short, there must be conflict. On every page, in every scene. Something has to be happening to keep that reader turning those pages. Something has to appeal to them so strongly they wait eagerly for the next book. Something in those characters has to make them yearn for what they could be or sympathise with what they aren't.

Otherwise, what's the point?

What do you think? Can you think of a heroic act performed by a character that was heroic for them, but perhaps not by others? How are your characters heroic? What sort of response do your characters give to danger or fear?

Thanks so much to everyone who commented!

**A few endnotes:

*I'll be at the Plot Monkeys blog again this weekend, for the epublisher portion of the publishing series;

*We have several guest bloggers coming up in the next few weeks, both here and at the League, so stay tuned!

*It's cold here, and my feet are cold;

*Actually had a good Valentine's Day! Ate fast food, watched Ratatouille, ate chocolate. No fights. Also, got the Sweeney Todd soundtrack as a gift. Very low-key, but good.


BernardL said...

Solid post on heroic skills, and I'm happy you had a good Valentine's Day. Whoever said the key to happiness is low expectations, really had a grip on reality. Sometimes the picture in our heads of what should be impedes day to day survival. My heroes always have the heroic ability to take pleasure in the simple things of life. :)

Robyn said...

Thank you for this fun series, DQ! I can think of two examples:

Richard Gere in Pretty Woman. He's scared of heights, and commitment, but climbs a fire escape to ask Julia Roberts to be with him. So, so touching.

Richard Gere again in Shall We Dance. All he does is go to where wife Susan Sarandon is working- but he goes in a tux, with a rose, to ask her to dance; to ask her to join him in a part of his life he didn't think he could, or should, share with her. To me, it was as big and romantic and heroic as any knight who ever knelt at his lady's feet.

Charles Gramlich said...

Very good point about "risk." No risk, no heroics.

writtenwyrdd said...

Thanks for the series! I haven't been able to read it yet because I've been having connection and computer problems at the same time, as well as now I am working on a deadline to get some writing done. Need to focus on that, so I've just skimmed these.

I like the insights and will have to bookmark these hero articles for further perusal.

You have been very busy with the interviews and guest blogs lately.

December/Stacia said...

Thanks Bernard! Lol, yes, low expectations are key. And yes, it is heroic simply to be satisfied at times, or pleased with what you have. Good point. :-)

Thanks, Robyn! And yes, you're exactly right, those are both great examples. Sometimes heroism can be small, but it has to be there.

*nods* Yep, Charles. It's not heroic to expect something for nothing.

Thanks, Written. Here I thought everyone had just abandoned me and hated the series. :-) Hope you get the computer problem sorted, and kill the deadline, lol!
Yes, I have been fairly busy. Had I been thinking I wouldn't have scheduled this all at the same time, lol. But I have some guests coming to blog here, so that will be nice.