Welcome to the second article in my new series on character tropes! “A Series on Tropes” is about the importance of the inclusion of character tropes—from villains to heroes, sidekicks to love interests—in a story. This post is about the most necessary yet strangely underappreciated character: the hero.
Isn’t it crazy that the character who saves the universe is one of the most underappreciated characters in a book? But when you think about it, the reader’s favorite character is never the hero. I’ve never heard someone say that Harry Potter or Katniss Everdeen is their favorite character.
The fact is, the hero is overlooked because, as the hero and the main character, we’re stuck inside their head over the course of the whole book. We fall in love with the side characters that are fun and different and are so at odds with the main character. Take, for example, Jesper from Six of Crows or Petra from Jane the Virgin. Their storylines are so interesting and different from the main character’s that they’ve inspired backstories, side stories, and additions within the series.
A hero is difficult to write because they have to be realistic while also having the “special” skill or attribute needed to be the hero. Percy didn’t know his father was Poseidon. He spent half of the series confused about what was going on because he hadn’t been educated about the world he was thrust in to. The more interesting stories to read are the ones where the main character has knowledge about their world but wasn’t aware of how deep the conspiracy or plan goes.
Since the hero is normally the main character of the novel, he, like the villain, needs a logical backstory. There has to be an introduction into the story that leads to the event where the hero must show their power and/or are thrust into the world they didn’t know existed. Major character traits should be shown in this instance, too—their loyalties, personality, and abilities should come to light.
The villain should become apparent early into the story. In my last article, I briefly mentioned that the hero is defined by the villain and the villain's actions, and it’s true. The hero quickly forms a personal connection with the villain that fuels the search for an end to whatever the villain’s goal is. As the story progresses, we see the hero and how he or she is impacted by the actions of the villain and how he or she reacts to said actions.
As the story goes on, the hero sometimes forms relationships with people, be it a familial bond, a friendship, or a romantic fling. The connection with people motivates the hero to defeat the villain. They want to save their loved ones. It also adds a level of necessary complication and subplots to the storyline: if the hero’s significant other is taken hostage, killed, etc., there is a deeper motivation to save the person as the need for revenge or heroism is quickly cast aside.
All of the complications aside, heroes can either be really well written or really poorly written. Often there is no in between. Notice the difference between Bella from Twilight when she is compared to Laia in An Ember in the Ashes; Laia is aware and brave, while Bella finds her motivation in lust and glory. This also depends on the writer. You must have a good connection with your main character because there is no other way to write a good character. Your characters are a part of you!
The hero is also defined by their actions at the moment they are in. Please, please don’t write a hero that decides to have three-fourths of the population die so the necessary one-fourth might live. (Unless, of course, you want to change the way the character is read. If your “hero” is really the villain, then go for it.) It’s good for the character to make bad decisions, as it shows their humanity, but unless you are planning an unhappy ending for your hero, the decisions shouldn’t affect the entire universe.
As you write your hero, get inside their head. Take care to notice their quirks and make sure to ensure the consistency of their personality or character as a whole. My main character’s true flaw is her tendency to freeze when panicked and her extraordinarily brash temper, so I make sure that her temper and her anxiety comes into play in any major scene. Without it, she would seem invincible. No being is completely invincible.
One last thing I think is pertinent: make sure to really put your hero through the wringer. Drama fuels the story, and there is nothing more dramatic than a YA fantasy novel. Isn’t that why we love them?
All in all, the hero is just that: the hero. The savior. Heroes make questionable choices but normally stick with their beliefs. I like to think that my character believes so wholly in her mission that she would put herself through any situation to achieve it, but I know that she must eventually meet her match. I’ve made sure that her personality backs her mission and that the villain is unexpected and just as three-dimensional as she is.
Have fun writing your heroes! That’s the whole purpose of writing them. Keep writing. The thought of making your own worlds to hopefully accompany the ones already made is a beautiful thing.