Just the other day, I had planned what I thought was a pretty good piece about creating memorable villains. However, my fellow writer Emily beat me to it in a great piece entitled, appropriately enough, "VILLAINS".
She mentions pretty much what I had planned on saying about memorable bad guy characters, villains with what they perceive as noble intentions rather than just Mr. Burns trying to steal Maggie Simpson's lollipop because it's been too long since he took candy from a baby.
I'm paraphrasing here, but even Hitler loved his mother.
So I thought I would do a "companion piece" of sorts and talk about, yep, you guessed it (well, you read it in the title, so I'm sure you're not surprised), heroes.
Not protagonist, which can be the same but doesn't have to be, but hero.
What makes a good, memorable hero?
For me, a good hero is a character I can identify with, who seems real on some level.
A person with flaws.
No villain should be pure evil, and a good hero shouldn't be purely altruistic.
I love comic books, so I'll use an example from there:
Superman--sometimes called "The Big, Blue, Boy Scout". He has vast power that he uses to defend the helpless, because that's what a hero is supposed to do, right? He saves the world time and time again because it's the right thing to do. Some of his stories can be interesting, and I love the pop-culture history that he represents, but at the end of the day, Superman doesn't stick with me because I can't identify with him. Unlike, say,
The Batman--Now here's a hero I can sink my teeth into. Bruce Wayne fights crime as The Batman with an obsession that borders on (and sometimes slides into) psychosis. He is relentless, driven by tragedy, and pursuing a goal that is ultimately impossible. At the heart of The Batman is a scared little boy lashing out in vengeance at the criminal world that robbed him of his parents.
Obsession? Fear? Vengeance? These things I understand. I've felt those things because I am human, and a hero who feels those things is more human to me (even if said character is alien or supernatural), and I identify.
I like heroes with internal conflict. Wolverine, for example, is constantly at war with the savage beast that lives inside him. He sometimes has to force himself to act against his nature in order to do the right thing. That's heroism.
A good hero doesn't even have to be a "good guy".
Friend and fellow writer Lydia Sharp references Pitch Black often, and with good reason. Not only is it an example of brilliant story telling and structure, it's filled with good, memorable characters.
In Pitch Black, we have Riddick. Theif. Fugitive. Murderer. He's the hero of this piece, but is he a good guy?
Not on your life, and that's why I love the character.
The hero of my novel Sword of Glass, The Raggedy Man, is a good guy, but he still has flaws. He has the power and responsibility to fight against the villain, but he resists because he just wants to be left alone. He doesn't want to go to war, even though he knows he should. It isn't until that war comes to him that he is forced into action, realizing that he'll never have the peace he covets unless he steps up to his responsibility.
This makes him more real to me as I'm writing him, and I hope it will make him more real to readers, as well. I hope they can identify with him, so they'll care about what happens to him.
Superman is okay now and again.
But I want a hero with problems.
Give me a hero who is afraid of his past. Give me a hero helps other people because it's conducive to his plan of saving his own skin. Give me a hero who does the right thing because it's part of his struggle to not be a villain.
Is he or she arrogant? Conceited? Selfish, even?
I can identify with that.
Thanks for reading!