Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Heroes 101: Yes, They Can Be as Interesting as Antiheroes

Heroes seem to be going out of style in favor of antiheroes and villains, yet some of the most beloved characters are heroes. They're characters who genuinely want to be good and strive to be even better. They inspire us to be better human beings.

"It's almost unbearable, isn't it... the pain of being all alone. I know that feeling, I've been there, in that dark and lonely place, but now there are others, other people who mean a lot to me. I care more about them than I do myself, and I won't let anyone hurt them. That's why I'll never give up, I will stop you, even if I have to kill you! They saved me from myself, they rescued me from my loneliness, they were the first to accept me as who I am. They're my friends."
~Naruto Uzumaki from Naruto Shippuden 

"Maybe the reason you don't see it is that it's stuck to your back. What I mean is, a person's admiral qualities - they're just like, say, a pickled plum on a rice ball. In other words the person's the rice ball and the plum's stuck to their back. So, all over the world you can have rice balls made with all sorts of wonderful ingredients, all different flavors and shapes and colors, but since they'd be stuck in the middle of everyone's back, someone could have a plum and not even know it. They'd look at themselves and think "I'm so plain, nothing but white rice," even though it isn't true because, turn them around and, sure enough, there it is. There's the plum. So if someone is jealous of somebody else, well, then, it's probably because it's easier to see the plum on someone else's back than it is on your own. Yup. I can see it. I can see it very clearly, Kyo. You don't know it but you have a great big plum on your back." ~Tohru Honda from Fruits Basket
One day it'll grow. And every time I look at it, I'll remember. Remember everything that happened: the good, the bad... and how lucky I am that I made it home. ~Bilbo Baggins from The Hobbit
How do we create characters like this? How do we think up boys, girls, men, and women who are inspirational, human, interesting, and relatable? Let's first look at the definition of a hero.

1. a person noted for courageous acts or nobility of character:
He became a local hero when he saved the drowning child.
2. a person who, in the opinion of others, has special achievements, abilities, or personal qualities and is regarded as a role model or ideal:
My older sister is my hero. Entrepreneurs are our modern heroes.
3. the principal male character in a story, play, film, etc.

A hero/heroine is normally thought of as both the main character and one who is noble. It's common to equate nobility with perfection. I wrote a post all about how that's untrue earlier this month. Therefore I've ascertained seven elements that I believe are key to creating a great hero and keeping to the principals of a true hero.

Warning: Spoilers from Avatar: The Last Airbender, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Divergent Series, The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Spirited Away, Naruto Shippuden, and Fruits Basket

None of the images are mine.

Just sit back and read the post.
1.) They Need Moral Boundries - A hero/heroine needs solid moral boundaries. Villains and antihero boundaries can be more flexible, but a hero needs to have a line that they can't cross or they're no longer a hero. Like stated in many a good fiction film, if they cross that line then they're no better than a villain. What won't they do to accomplish their goals because they know it's wrong? Lie? Steal? Murder? Break a cultural law?

Example: Aang from Avatar: The Last Airbender - At the climax of this series, Aang is faced with the battle he's been training the whole show for: to defeat Fire Lord Ozai. However, everyone is pressuring him to kill this man which would mean crossing the biggest moral line Aang has which is he can never murder someone. Through much struggle, he manages to find another way to defeat this tyrannical villain while still keeping his moral boundary. 

2.) They Need a Strong Goal - Every main character needs a dream or goal for what themselves. It's best to have one that the reader can get on board with. A hero can have many other goals, but they need a focal one that they are primarily passionate to go after. Do they want to help others? Do they want to be pop stars? Do they want to find their parents? Do they want to be worthy to be called king? Do they want to help dwarves take back their home? Do they want to destroy the One Ring? Do they want to dispel the curse on their parents? Do they want to find where they belong? What do they want with their lives? 

Example: Naruto Uzumaki from Naruto Shippuden - Within the first few minutes of the Naruto series, you well know that Naruto Uzumaki wants to become the next hokage (basically like a president or mayor but can only have that positioned granted if they are someone of great honor and respect) of the Village Hidden in the Leaves. He is bound and determined to get there no matter what it takes. He has an incredible passion to reach that goal and amazing perseverance. As you watch him grow, you want him so badly to succeed, because he just wants it so much--and in the end he wants it because he wants to be loved and respected, instead of rejected and shunned like he was. And in the end ... he meets his goal and you just want to sob in joy. 

3.) They Need Strengths - The hero needs definitive strengths, ones that we want to aspire to. They can be any number of things: bravery, passion, diligence, patience, kindness, creativity, intelligence, self-control, mercy, compassion, unconditional love ... The list goes on. They need some moral highlights to define their heroic nature. They don't have to be massively impressive, sometimes the most humble of strengths can be the most powerful. 

Example: Captain America/Steve Rogers from the Marvel Cinematic Universe - Steve is a symbol of justice, kindness, sacrifice, leadership, and strength. He is the most noble of the Avengers and he wears that with pride. He has in many sequences showed his colors even before he became a super soldier, whether that be never giving up even when bullied for his size or diving to cover a bomb to save other soldiers in training. Captain America is an amazing role model for any young man.

Example: Tohru Honda from Fruits Basket - Tohru has much subtler strengths than Steve, but that doesn't discount their power. Tohru has profound understanding, kindness, patience, and determination. Throughout the show she is grieving the tragic loss of her mother, but despite her intense pain she manages to still uplift others. She inspires others in the show to be better people because of her example. In so many scenes, I've cried at her amazing insight. She may not be kick butt with a sword or a successful business woman, but her light burns brightly. 

4.) They Need Some Flaws But Not So Many That They Stray into Antihero Territory - No one is perfect. Everyone needs flaws even heroes. Give them one of the seven deadly sins: wrath, pride, greed, lust, envy, sloth, or gluttony (Gluttony doesn't have to necessary mean food. It can be an overindulgence). Or another flaw like fear, doubt, cowardice, thievery, lying, recklessness, insensitivity, apathy, or ignorance. Keep in mind not to dwell too much on the flaws without any hinting toward growth or you can start drifting into antihero territory. A hero needs a moral qualities to show their heroism, but flaws to show they're imperfections and they still need to mature. 

Example: Thor Odinson from The Marvel Cinematic Universe - In the first Thor film, Thor begins his journey as a reckless, foolish, and prideful. He disobeys his father starts a war in his defiance. These flaws force his father  Odin banish him to earth so he may prove himself to be worthy of the throne. Shades of his flaws peek through in subsequent films, but not anywhere near as strongly as the first films. Also new flaws are unveiled as his old are conquered showing more potential for arcs.

Example: Chihiro from Spirited Away - Chihiro begins her journey as a whiny, dependent, coward of a little girl. She's overly clingy to her parents, whines about anything adventurous, and is scared of everything as she enters the spirit world. Other characters point out to her directly her flaws and limitations. These barriers are a big hindrance to her at the beginning of the film, and she has to learn to move past them if she has any hope of saving her parents.

5.) They Can Backslide But Let Them Rise Out of It Stronger - Everyone has low points. When life bears down on a person, they can feel beaten and experience some despair. Death, stress, overwhelm, change, loss, and a large number of other factors can cause a character to reach this point. Often villains and antiheroes are created by reaching this point and then letting themselves plummet ever further, revoking past principals and succumbing to dark desires and tendencies. The difference between these and heroes is that heroes rise from this pit and become ever stronger.

Example: Tris Prior from The Divergent Series - In InsurgentTris reaches a low point after her parents' death and after killing Will in self defence. She is unsure what to do about her grief, and she lets herself spiral. She beats herself up because she believes their death is her fault, and she hates herself for killing Will. But after she finally forgives herself, she rises up even stronger than before.

6.) They Can Have Just As Interesting Backstories as Antiheroes - Don't horde all of the good backstories for villains and antiheroes. Not every hero has to have an extremely impressive backstory to be great characters (Chihiro, Lucy Pevensie, Bilbo, and Tris didn't), but that doesn't mean that they can't have intriguing backstories full of mystery and suspense. They can be raised by monks. They can be the last of their race. They can be an immortal norse god. They can have a powerful beast imprisoned inside them as an infant. One of the biggest appeals of a character is often the backstory. Don't let villains and antiheroes have all the fun.

Example: Aragorn from The Lord of the Rings - Aragorn is the last of the Dunedain, a race inherently part of Gondor, and blessed with long life. He lost both of his parents at a young age and was raised by the elves of Rivendell, becoming fluent in their language. There he also he met Arwen and fell in love with her. Love between elves and men is frowned upon because if an elf marries a human then he or she gives up their immortality. Aragorn is also eight-seven years old, has fought many battles including on with Theodin's father, and even tried to find Gollum before Sauron captured him. I think that's a pretty interesting backstory, don't you think? 

Aragorn at his mother's grave
7.) They Need to Grow and Change - The most important thing about a hero is that they must grow and change. They must conquer their flaws and grow stronger. Also no rewinds on character development. In Daniel X and Ben 10, the writers completely erased the Daniel and Ben's character development in sequels. That felt like a complete betrayal of their characters and just horrible writing. I stopped reading/watching after that happened. Often when the characters grow so do we as the readers. That's part of the magic of heroes and part of why I'm such a huge advocate about making sure they don't disappear from modern media.

Example: Bilbo Baggins from The Hobbit - I feel like Bilbo's character development is more prevalent in the movies than the book, so I'm going to focus on that. Bilbo begins his journey as a homebody, stuffy, inflexible, and a bit of a coward. But some little spark in him that yearns for adventure pushed him to take the journey with the dwarves. At the end of the long trek to Erebor, he is not the same hobbit. He saw things and did things he couldn't imagine. He found his courage. He made steadfast friends. He lost people dear to him. This meme puts it perfectly: 

There's so many other heroes I didn't even have time to mention like Meg from A Wrinkle in Time, Harry Potter from the series of his name, Thomas from the Maze Runner, Cinder from the Lunar Chronicles, or Lucy from the Chronicles of Narnia. Let's not in our craving for antiheroes and villains, lose sight of these amazing characters. When I see people pining for them over heroes, I'm saddened. I want to be inspired to be better than who I am. Antiheroes and villains don't urge you to do that. Heroes do.

What are some of your favorite heroes? Have you ever written an hero? Do you have further questions about heroes?

You may also like: 
Five Tips on Writing A Good Main Character
How to Write A Good Character Interview
How Drawing Can Help You Write

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