How To Create a Hero

Forget what Tina Turner says -- we all do need another hero. And whether you're writing a novel, short story, or script, you can create the kind of unforgettable hero audiences love to follow. Here are some steps for creating heroes in your work.

  1. Set the mission. If Batman didn't have to save Gotham, if Luke Skywalker didn't have to save Princess Leia, if Jack Bauer didn't have to save the world -- then why on earth would we care about them? The answer is, "we probably wouldn't." To create a great hero, find a mission that becomes his reason for being. Your audience needs to cheer him on as he tries to "do the right thing" even when it's hard.
  2. Give him backstory. Any great character, hero or villain, will have certain things in his past that make him who he is today. These things may not always come out in your story. Or they may play a minor role in how everything turns out. They may even be central to your plot. In any case, don't create a hero who simply exists in the "here and now." Spend time figuring out how your hero go to the "here and now," how he became a hero.
  3. Give him weaknesses . Yes, life for Superman would be sweet without kryptonite. Yes, if Luke Skywalker had more patience in the first Star Wars movie, he might have taken down Darth Vader right off. And yes, Jack Bauer's drug problem a few seasons ago did make for some uncomfortable moments. But really, don't we all want a hero who isn't perfect, a hero who has some weaknesses? If the guy (or girl) can do everything, all the time, then what's the point of watching his story unfold? He can walk in the front door, kill the villain and save the day -- end of story. That's pretty boring, isn't it? Vulnerability adds conflict and, in a story, conflict is always a good thing. Plus, a character with his own weaknesses can be more relatable to audiences and more likable, too.
  4. Give him a villain worth fighting. Along with having to battle his own shortcomings, a hero should have to battle an antagonist who is up to the challenge. If Jack Bauer had to take on Girl Scouts every season, even if he still found a way to employ torture, it wouldn't be satisfying to watch. The better the villain, the more the hero has to fight for his victory; and remember -- conflict is good!
  5. Give him a life beyond 'saving the day.' Yes, your hero should spend most of your story squarely fixed on making the world safe for democracy/ending the alien invasion/rescuing the farm from the landlord or whatever it is he plans to do. But take time to give your character other traits that will make him fuller and shade how he goes about his job. Jack Bauer has a daughter -- an annoying daughter, but still a daughter. This could affect how he looks at the task of torturing those aforementioned Girl Scouts. Indiana Jones loves artifacts and history and, in fact, teaches about them; his background affects the zeal with which he tries to rescue ancient pieces from thieves and Nazis. In "In the Line of Fire" Clint Eastwood's Secret Service agent played lonesome jazz piano. And almost every hero has a love interest who complicates things. Your hero shouldn't live in a "mission vacuum," in other words. Don't digress too far from your story (unless you're writing a novel, in which case, digress as much as you like...), but also remember to add those memorable quirks and traits and circumstances that make a character unforgettable.

Your hero will be at the heart of your story, driving it forward. He will also be the "rooting interest" your reader or viewer hooks onto and follows. Providing your story with a good hero is one of the most important steps in creating a story that succeeds in gripping your audience.

 

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