I agree with much of what’s been said this week about heroes. In fact, I was afraid I’d have nothing further to say. But fortunately the talk of what constitutes a real-life hero led me to thinking about fictional/literary heroes and heroines and I do have some thoughts about that.
In fiction, the hero is defined in broader terms than in life—if you’re the main character in a book (and you’re not an anti-hero or the official villain) then you get to be the hero or heroine. And in fiction one encounters many kinds of heroes—the big, dramatic, lifesaving kind and those for whom just making it through another day is an act of heroism.
Personally, I like to read about the everyday hero/heroines and I like them complicated, messy and never too nice. (“Nice” irritates me in fiction, as does “cute” and I’ll find myself rolling my eyes and/or wanting to throttle or slap characters who have too much of either quality. *) I have a high tolerance for gray area in a character and find myself bored with those who don’t have any. I’ll take that further and say I have a deep mistrust for those who see things as only black or white, and not just in fiction—they lack empathy and their world-view is often shaped by fear and anger. It’s not that you can’t create a hero who begins with a narrow mind-set—it’s actually a great internal obstacle—I just have a hard time liking that kind of character. Personally I love a good dose of self-doubt, angst, delusion, addictions, guilt and a certain level of self-awareness (despite the delusions) in my literary heroes. I like paradox. I love seeing a character with divided loyalties, internal wars, someone who makes decisions that surprise everyone, including themselves. Above all, I love a character with demons.
When I was working on Falling Under I set my heroine up with tons of angst and emotional baggage, made her as complicated as I could and then threw a bunch of external obstacles at her too. (Poor girl, I really hammered her!) And then I sat back and watched with a mix of awe and horror as she did the wrong things for the wrong reasons, the wrong things for the right reasons, the right things for the wrong reasons and so on. Eventually, in spite of it all, she started to do the right things for the right reasons and even then, it didn’t always make things work out. She kept trying though, and to me, that’s what made her a hero.
Now it’s your turn: how do you like your fictional heroes?
* I’m not a violent person, I promise, just easily irritated when reading.