#6 Making a Hero

As writers, one of the most important things we do is create characters. Specifically, heroic characters. Our character needs to do more than look the part, they have to act like one too. Their actions must back up their character in a way that makes them worthy of our interest and their role in the story.

It is critical that writers take the internal and external events in the story to shape their characters into someone relatable and/or empathetic.

In a paranormal story, the hero/heroine is usually saving the world from some apocalyptic event. Saving the world makes your character pretty darn likable, almost immediately. It doesn’t matter what he’s shooting between the eyes, because he’s saving us all. Stories might include demons, monsters, or just bad people who are interested in conquering or destroying the world. That’s a lot of external conflicts. And when there are a lot of external conflicts, it’s easy to forget that things happen within our characters as well. It’s important to answer the following questions about your character:

  • Who are they?
  • Who were they as a child?
  • Who do they want to be?
  • How do the answers to those questions influence everything they say, do, desire, despise, and love?
  • If romance is involved, how do those answers make the story and the relationship between your characters stronger? Weaker?

For example, if your character is suddenly turned into a vampire and needs to feed, what does this do to them emotionally? Does feeding bring back memories of some horrible tragedy in their past? Try to go beyond just what is occurring to your character and remember that you’ve created a person, and people have feelings and thoughts about what is happening to them.

Particularly in a romantic plot, consider what internal conflicts pull your characters together and what pushes them apart. External conflict matters, but internal conflict and growth have to occur alongside those happenings.

External conflict should move internal conflict forward.

In a suspense story, you have some sort of macho character (not always though, turn those tropes on their ears). They’re larger than life. They’re doing something by choice to save a tiny part of the world. Maybe a loved one. Maybe themselves.

Their actions give them the assumption of being a hero, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are.

Surviving and searching for the bad guy becomes the conflict and that can quickly take over the story. Remember: external conflict should move internal conflict forward. So consider these questions as well:

  • Why do they do what they do?
  • What has molded their viewpoints?
  • How do their choices influence the story and their relationships?
  • Are they a reluctant hero or gung-ho?
  • Do they have a need for vengeance and is it a driving force or is it destroying them?

Contemporary stories have conflict too. It’s not all about genre fiction. (For some people anyway)

In most cases, the genre elements have been removed from the story. No guns. No monsters. No magic. Nothing too intense. Only… that’s not entirely true. There are demons in contemporary literature. Real-life demons like losing a job, watching a loved one die, losing your confidence, having your dreams swept out from under you. These are real events that happen every day, and they don’t require much suspension of reality.

It’s important to reach out to the reader with emotions and not just events, as events can get boring real fast. You can take a mundane scene and use your craft to make it emotional. Make your main character really pop off the page.

The trick is: create a platform that allows your hero to be a hero and don’t allow that platform to be limiting or contrived. To make a true hero in your world, you have to allow them the chance to shine in your storytelling.

Here’s an exercise:

  1. Outline your story with a clear beginning, middle, and end. Don’t forget the emotional arc. Write down your events and then, in a different color, write the emotional toll this takes on your characters.
  2. Now outline your characters.
  • Who are the main and secondary characters?
  • How do they fit your main character? Make them better? Make them worse?

Here’s an example character outline:

  • Basics – name, hair, eyes, age.
  • Siblings – ages, names, relationship status with the main character
  • Parents – Who are they? What do they do? What are/were they to your main character? How have they influenced your main character’s life? Alive? Dead? Rich? Poor? Alcoholic? Drug addict?
  • Home life – growing up verse now
  • Favorite stuff – foods, sports, clothes, tchotchkes, books, candy, soda, drink…
  • Events that formed the MC
  • Events that torment that MC
  • Past loves – how and why they ended
  • Jobs – past and present
  • Education
  • Tragic events – past experiences equal present reactions

It’s nice to keep an ongoing list, especially if you are planning a series so that your character doesn’t change. They should have an emotional arc, yes, but their history should stay the same and not fluctuate based on what you do or do not remember.

Repeat this exercise for secondary characters and villains.

By J. M. Tuckerman

J.M.Tuckerman is a neurodivergent writer with a big education. She holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults, an MA in Writing, and a BA in Writing Arts (specializing in Creative Writing, New Media Writing, and Publication; concentrating in New Media Production), which she somehow managed to earn despite her three very loud and large dogs. Jessica was lucky enough to intern at Quirk Books and Picador, USA while earning her masterโ€™s degrees. Her service dog, Ringo, is very proud of all that she has accomplished and hopes to be on a back cover of a published book with her very soon. An avid reader, writer, and lover of young adult and middle-grade literature, Jessicaโ€™s bookshelf is overflowing with hardbacks, paperbacks, and a million half-filled notebooks. She is a proud fur-mommy to two lab/st-bernard littermates, a retriever-mix service dog, and one orange little hobgoblin cat, all of whom have made very audible appearances on the Booked All Night podcast.

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