Five Ways to Write a Successful Hero

heroMy in-laws are here this week. In fact, they came a day early. I was woefully unprepared. There was no food in the house. I was in the middle of cleaning. Their bed sheets weren’t even on the bed yet. I was wearing my housecleaning clothes: sweat shorts and a ripped and stained oversized T-shirt that I “borrowed” from my husband years ago and never returned. Hey, I do the laundry. If he wants it back, he should wash it and put it in his drawer. Anyway…

Their arrival could have gone a few different ways. My in-laws could have looked around with disdain and made snide comments, but they’re too classy for that. (What they thought is another story. I’ll never know, and I like it that way.) My husband could have blamed me for the mess and sat there waiting for me to scramble. (I was scrambling anyway.) Or he could have explained how busy we’ve all been (which is true), explained that we expected them the following day (also true), and then pitched in more than he already had been to get the place serviceable. Which was what he did. My hero.

Okay, that might be a bit overdramatic, but my life isn’t in peril on a daily basis. But in fiction, heroes don’t always have to be saving lives. Sometimes they just come to the rescue of an unprepared leading lady. Heroes come in all shapes and sizes for all kinds of situations, but there are ways to ensure you create a believable and likeable hero. Here are five rules to follow when crafting heroes for your fiction.

  1. Heroes need noble professions
    Don’t automatically default to the billionaire playboy philanthropist. Bruce Wayne has been written about enough already. A hero can be wealthy, but he certainly doesn’t have to be. Heroes can be middle class, they can also be living paycheck to paycheck. Income doesn’t matter. The key is to make their professions honorable. Whatever they choose to do with their lives, whatever their pasts and their histories, they need to have good intentions and actions in the present. They should also have the means to date a woman. That doesn’t mean five-star resorts and fancy restaurants, but he should be able to do better than PB&J sandwiches in the bed of his truck.
  2. Heroes are men of action
    Introspection is fine for the leading man, in fact, it’s encouraged. There’s no better way for readers to get to know the hero than to hear his thoughts, in his voice. But heroes are, by definition, men of action. Don’t let this guy spend too much time thinking without doing something. We want to learn about him, but we want to learn about him through his actions.
  3. Heroes need to be open to new things
    Two peas in a pod or opposites attract? I always vote opposites. If your hero and heroine share too many of the same traits, their relationship is going to be dull. The exciting relationships are the ones where the guy and girl come together from two different ends of the spectrum. That means, however, that one of them is going to want to go to the football game while the other is ordering ballet tickets. (It really doesn’t matter which one is which—don’t play into stereotypical gender roles all the time.) Let your hero not only willingly agree to give up his activity in favor of hers; let him enjoy her activity as well.
  4. Work with a quirk
    Yes, I know that was a suggestion I used for the heroines, but it holds true for the heroes, too. Guys aren’t always cool and collected. They have idiosyncrasies. If it’s not a nervous tick or a tell of some sort, then he’s likely to have some weird habit or an odd collection at home. Perhaps it has something to do with his car. Everyone has a quirk. Show his. Let us learn about him through his. Is it endearing? Is it weird? Is it something that is sentimental and emotional? Reveal something about him through the quirk.
  5. MAKE HIM FLAWED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Yep, another repeat. But this one definitely bears repeating. No one’s perfect. He might be perfect for the heroine, but he isn’t flawless. He can have wonderful qualities most of the time, but not always. He’s going to have indecision. He’s going to have doubts. And sometimes, sometimes, he’s going to do something completely idiotic and make the heroine angry. It’s okay. They’ll work it out. He’s still a good guy. He’s just not perfect. And that’s precisely what will make him the perfect hero for your story.

Heroes come in all kinds of packages: long and lean to big and bulky; boardrooms to operating rooms; the open range to the gun range. How they look, what they do, where you find them… none of that really matters. It’s all window dressing. What matters is what’s at the core. Heroes need to be flawed, challenged men striving for redemption, and they are successful by saving (or helping to save) the leading lady.

 

photo courtesy of Chris Hartford: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Knight_at_Battle_Abbey.jpg

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8 Responses to Five Ways to Write a Successful Hero

  1. I completely agree about making him flawed. Nothing is more boring than an unflawed hero…okay, maybe not quite nothing, but close to it. ;)

    Great post! A lot of great things to keep in mind while creating a hero, or really any good book character.

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    • Staci Troilo says:

      Thanks. I’d been reading far too many “perfect man” books lately and I’d had enough. I thought maybe we all needed a reminder that flaws make characters more believable.

      Like this

  2. rgayer55 says:

    In the world of humor writing, the hero would be a lazy procrastinator who will only eat two things (both disgusting) and refuses to make a decision unless it involves beer.

    How’s that for a writing prompt? Can you write a 500 word story about this guy?

    Like this

  3. P. C. Zick says:

    Who comes a day early? As usual, you’ve taken an everyday experience and turned it into gold advice. I read once that heroes are either extraordinary folks in ordinary circumstances (Superman) or ordinary folks in extraordinary circumstances (most common). It’s how they handle those circumstances that makes the story and your advice is all spot on! Thanks.

    Like this

    • Staci Troilo says:

      They claim they told us they were coming Saturday. It turns out, they told MY DAUGHTER they were coming Saturday. They might as well as whispered it to the wind and hoped the message traveled to my ears. It all worked out in the end. Much to my chagrin, my mother-in-law actually pitched in and helped clean… she scrubbed the kids’ bathroom down (my most dreaded chore!) and made her bed. She was kind of a hero, too!

      Like this

  4. janna hill says:

    Great advice Staci.

    Like this

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