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Escapades with the Hero/Paragon character

Forums Fiction Characters Escapades with the Hero/Paragon character

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  • #136553
    Rose
    @rose-colored-fancy

    Hello y’all, and welcome to episode who-knows of me ranting about things I find interesting.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about the classical hero character. Mostly because I have a classic example in my WIP. (Gavril, for anyone who knows him.)

    There was a recent post about why classical heroes are still needed in fiction. The points were: Heroes give us ideals to strive for, heroes show us that the world can be saved, and heroes can be reflections of Christ.

    All excellent points, but I was also thinking about how a hero character affects other characters.

    Now, I’ll begin by defining a hero, purely for the purpose of this discussion. I’m defining it as a character with a strong moral code, who does good things for good reasons, and whose main (psychological) motivation is to be a good person who does good things.

    I’m not defining it as a character without flaws, or a character who isn’t broken or has a slightly skewed worldview. IMO, a hero can have all those things and still qualify as a hero. After all, they’re only human.

    Note, my definition of a hero may not match up exactly with the article above. I’m talking about other things you can do with a hero character, some of which may defeat the purpose of being an example to the reader. I’m purely talking about writing an interesting character.

    Heroes have an interesting effect on the narrative. Namely, they don’t just inspire the reader, they also inspire the characters around them. Characters will recognize that this is a Good Person, and people like good people. So they’ll generally collect quite an ensemble of characters around them that look to them for guidance, or at least morals.

    If you aren’t sure what to do in a tricky situation, you ask the hero, because they can be depended on to always do the right thing. No pressure.

    As you can imagine, this will often end up with the hero pulling a lot of weight, since all these people are counting on them. Some heroes don’t seem to notice or care, others are acutely aware that they’re responsible for others.

    Also, they tend to overshadow everyone around them. Other characters may idealize them because they seem perfect. They may be popular and well-liked, and as such, they draw the spotlight away from everyone else. (I use this bit of information a lot in my current WIP)

    So, not all characters will automatically like them. Many may resent them, simply because they seem so flawlessly perfect that they’re in fact extremely annoying. It’s fun to introduce some conflict there.

    Now, since we’re writers and we enjoy this kind of thing, we need to figure out how to turn these traits against them. There are several delightful options. A. The trolley problem/moral dilemma B. Stubbornness and corruption. C. Being loners.

    Moral dilemma.

    If ever there was a character to pose the trolley problem to, this is the one. (Save one loved one and sacrifice five strangers or the other way around?) Other characters may act selfishly based on their issues and motivations, but the hero (generally) won’t. Heroes are delightfully fun to force into moral dilemmas because they generally have very strong consciences and may torture themselves over difficult choices. Use this as you will, it can be an excellent way to demonstrate your theme.

    Stubbornness and corruption

    This may be shocking, but if you want to have a corruption arc where a hero loses track of their goodness and becomes a villain, the hero is your easiest candidate. Because they have such strong convictions, they easily fall into the trap that they are the only person who knows what’s right and they may give in to pride.

    If you do force them into a dilemma, they may end up making the wrong choice. Because they’re so certain that they’re right, your other characters are going to have a nightmare of a time convincing them that they’re wrong, even if it’s obvious to everyone else.

    Their moral compass may go slightly crooked and they’ll end up as an anti-hero (Doing bad things for good reasons) or eventually as an Anti-Villian (Doing bad things for reasons they think are good but are actually messed-up). Many villains may have started out as heroes. (I personally like these kinds of villains. They’re interesting.)

    You can go in all kinds of thematic directions with this. You can let them see their mistake and repent, or you can turn them into a villain permanently as an example of ‘pride goes before a fall, humans aren’t infallible,’ etc.

    Being a loner.

    As I mentioned before, heroes are prone to thinking they’re the only infallible force on earth. (After all, that’s what everyone tells them, constantly.) They may see the people around them as inferior, even if they consider them friends. They may be extremely stubborn and throw teamwork out the window as soon as someone doesn’t agree with them. Since they’re still human, this can often be a mistake.

    If they underestimate the situation, they may end up outnumbered, outsmarted, or outmaneuvered. And alone. After all, they just essentially told their teammates that they’re not good enough and that they only get in the hero’s way. The teammates may not be eager to help them after that.

    This is actually pretty easy to bring about since heroes can be fairly predictable. If the villain knows the hero or at least knows their moral code, they can use it against them.

    It’s always fun to introduce a bit of good ol’ human error to a hero’s plans because it brings them crashing down to earth after their ego pops like a balloon.

    Heroes often become boring if they’re infallible. It’s interesting to see a hero fall flat on their face because it’s an unusual situation.

    Now, not all heroes fall into this. Some of them may be genuinely humble and even uncertain or reluctant. These are generally more likable, but many of the above scenarios won’t work on them. Still, you can have a nice bit of internal self-doubt, especially if they’ve failed in the past and are afraid that it may happen again.

    Heroes vs. corrupted heroes.

    Now, it really becomes fun when you have a villain that falls into the anti-hero/anti-villain range. Because you’ll have the lovely scenario where Evil Hero is trying to justify their actions by comparing themselves to Good Hero in a classic “We’re not so different” scenario. Now, Good Hero is genuinely upsetting to Bad Hero because you have this lovely mirror scenario where they’re essentially trying to convince someone else to make the same bad choices they made to convince themselves that they acted reasonably and heroically.

    And if Good Hero blatantly refuses to be convinced, Bad Hero has to face up to the fact that they’re actually not a Hero anymore. I’ll leave it up to you to figure out how Bad Hero reacts, but it’s an interesting situation.

    Thank you for coming to my TED talk! XD

    Anyway, I’d love to hear y’all’s opinions on this! Have you used a hero character? How have you seen them used? Do heroes always have to be the main character? (IMO, no. They can be cool side characters.)

    Without darkness, there is no light. If there was no nighttime, would the stars be as bright?

    #136625
    Ella
    @writergirl101

    @rose-colored-fancy

    Awesome stuff, Rose!  *ponders deeply for a moment*  I have the hero archetype in the form of a secondary character, Holly.  She has all the struggles of a normal person, but she has the power to deal with it because of her strong morals and courage.

    And I totally agree, heroes don’t have to be main characters at all!  Secondary/minor characters are really fun to see the hero archetype in.

    Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn.

    #136638
    Rose
    @rose-colored-fancy

    @writergirl101

    Totally! Holly sounds cool! Courageous characters are fun to read about!

    My hero character, Gavril, is also a side character. He’s the main character’s older brother, and it’s fun to use them as foils for each other, especially since my MC is basically Family Disappointment no. 1. (At least, she sees it that way XD)

    Another odd thing I’ve noticed is that it’s really hard to write a hero character in a secondary position. I don’t know if this only happens to me, but the hero tends to pull all the other characters into their orbit, so to speak. The narrative almost starts to revolve around them. Have you ever noticed something similar?

     

    Without darkness, there is no light. If there was no nighttime, would the stars be as bright?

    #136643
    Ella
    @writergirl101

    @rose-colored-fancy

     I don’t know if this only happens to me, but the hero tends to pull all the other characters into their orbit, so to speak. The narrative almost starts to revolve around them. Have you ever noticed something similar?

    Yes!  I know what you mean!  That always happens to me… it’s like “wait, you weren’t supposed to be that important!” XD

    For me, I just kinda roll with it, because hero characters are fun and they just deserve the spotlight, right?

    (Also, a lot of my hero characters *cough* love interests *cough* end up changing from bad to good and then they display all that good heroism stuff, lol!  But yeah, my love interests make me so happy…  I don’t think there’s ever been one I didn’t like!! XD)

    Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn.

    #136670
    Brian Stansell
    @obrian-of-the-surface-world

    @rose-colored-fancy

    Hi Rose!

    And You thought I had missed your TedTalk…heh-heh!  😊 Thought you’d sneak one by me, eh? 😋

    I do wonder at one thing with all of this use of the term “good”.  On what basis is the term “good” defined.  By societal norms or by God’s eternal principles?

    Here’s my dilemma.

    Remember in the Book of Judges where it says,

    In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes. [Judges 17:6 & Judges 21:25 NLT]

    If you examine those times, they were among the most wicked and vile periods of Israel’s history.  Yet mankind defined their own “good”.  See the disconnect I have?

    This is what I read in Scripture, and it informs my worldview that permeated even my fictive worldviews.

    People may be right in their own eyes, but the LORD examines their heart. [Proverbs 21:2 NLT]

    Wealth created by a lying tongue is a vanishing mist and a deadly trap. … Evil people desire evil; their neighbors get no mercy from them. [Proverbs 21:6, 10 NLT]

    Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of mankind was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. [Genesis 6:5 NASB20]

    As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. [Romans 3:10-12 KJV]

    If we do not take our definition of the term “good” from God and all that attenuates to that implication, we are only left with mankind’s definition of it that arises out of a sinful and selfish heart.  It is only by knowing God’s standard for the term that we can aspire to those gifts and attributes that come from His goodness.

    I do not want mankind’s definition because it makes one righteous in their own eyes, rather than actually expressing the virtue of it lovingly and sacrificially by God’s terms.  The Ten Commandments were given to show us God’s standard of good.  Terms like “good person” or “good people” can mean just about anything.  Criminals and psychopaths can see themselves as good and virtuous while committing the most heinous acts.

    This is why, as a baseline, I have to reference “good” as arising from God, either implicitly or overtly.

    Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. [James 1:17 KJV]

    Morals are also defined by God. They have to be, otherwise, they become arbitrary, self-defined, and subject to the vicissitudes of popular opinions.

    So, my anchor point, always for “good”, has to be God’s standard.

    So, you pose the problem of moral dilemmas.  And the burden of “goodliness” or “god-likeness” is borne on the shoulders of the “hero”.  They do so distinguish themselves sometimes by personal virtue doing what seems to be right, informed by the conscience, which I believe is the residual law written upon the heart of mankind.

    Romans 2:14-15 seems to affirm this, even though a conscience, willfully ignored enough can become seared (1 Timothy 4:2) and God will solidify these in their persistent rejection of Him by giving them over to a reprobate mind (Romans 1:28).  But I think a hero needs to have some sense of accountability to a Higher Authority, to maintain any good pursuit against the headwinds of evil and evil characters.

    Moral dilemmas

    The trolley problem. Yes.  One life for many.  Clearly, a struggle for personal desire and community responsibility pitted against one another.  I think of the poignant film entitled “Most” (also titled “The Bridge,” as Most is Czech for bridge) a 2003 Czech film directed by Bobby Garabedian and written and produced by Garabedian and American actor William Zabka. [Yes, the same American Actor who plays Johnny in “The Karate Kid” movies and now the “Cobra Kai” series on Ntflx]  The poignant and moving story of a bridge operator who sacrifices the life of his own son, to save the lives of complete strangers on a train that must pass over a railway bridge lift.  Clearly, a parallel to God’s sacrifice.

    The loner hero.

    That seems to be something some writers do, but I only think it appeals to me if they are loners because they are the only ones who will take the moral stand in the midst of collective cowardice.  I think every hero needs a support system, and some mentorship to affirm them, but failing that, they need to have a faith foundation and a relationship that encourages them towards the “good”.  I do not believe in heroes with no flaws.  Only Jesus did that, and it was the singular exception.  Jesus did have susceptibility and temptation (Hebrews 4:15) but never succumbed to it.  He is the only paragon.  Any other portrayal in fiction that mimics this without being a representation of Christ merely annoys me.  I see C.S. Lewis’s Aslan as Christ equated, so I do appreciate that parallel and do love Aslan as a character.

    Heroes vs. corrupted heroes.

    Ah yes. I’ve seen this one used many times.  Seems like Marvel and DC Comics movies do this a lot.  The villain indicates to the hero that they are just a side-step away from each other, walking on the opposite side of an arbitrary line of justice.  The Spiderman series did this (and had the trolley dilemma as well) with Spidey and the Green Goblin in the Toby McGuire versions.  Christopher Nolan’s Batman also did this with Bruce Wayne and Ra’s al Ghul character from the League of Assassins.  It also happened with the Heath Ledger Joker and Christian Bale as Batman with the prison ferries “Trolley dilemma”.  Seems to be a popular trope, but I think of Satan tempting Jesus in the Wilderness to making a single misstep, so it hearkens back to that age-old conflict with the lure of a shortcut to “save mankind” other than to walk longer uncompromising “The Warrior’s Path”.

    You’ve raised some good points.  Sign me up for your next “TedTalk”.  I’ll be there will bells on. 😉

    Brian Stansell (aka O'Brian of the Surface World)
    I was born in war.
    Fighting from my first breath.

    #136729
    Rose
    @rose-colored-fancy

    @obrian-of-the-surface-world

     I do wonder at one thing with all of this use of the term “good”.  On what basis is the term “good” defined.  By societal norms or by God’s eternal principles?

    Excellent points! While writing this, I was assuming God’s principles and commandments, (in most cases. That wouldn’t work if the ‘hero’ was a villain) but I believe both will technically qualify for the hero archetype. I know, I know, but hear me out.

    They should never be used interchangeably, but I believe that heroes who follow their own morals could have an interesting character arc as they realize that they’re not the final authority and it’s brought them close to villian-dom. (villianhood? Villianness?) (Might be hard to write properly, but it is an option.)

    I completely agree with what you said here:

    I do not want mankind’s definition because it makes one righteous in their own eyes, rather than actually expressing the virtue of it lovingly and sacrificially by God’s terms.  The Ten Commandments were given to show us God’s standard of good.  Terms like “good person” or “good people” can mean just about anything.  Criminals and psychopaths can see themselves as good and virtuous while committing the most heinous acts.

    I believe that you shouldn’t use mankind’s definition unless you explicitly point out that it is not equal to God’s and either use it for villains or have the hero realize they’re wrong. Also, it needs to have negative consequences.

    As you said:

    Morals are also defined by God. They have to be, otherwise, they become arbitrary, self-defined, and subject to the vicissitudes of popular opinions.

    You could use it for a character arc where the “hero” finds out that they were wrong/evil because they were defining their own morals. Or you could use it for the fallen hero I mentioned above. If the hero was holding themselves to God’s standard of goodness, that (probably) wouldn’t happen.

    I think it would be especially interesting to contrast a hero who holds himself to God’s given commandments and morals with a villain who sees himself as heroic because he’s following his own set of morals. It would be hard to write and require a lot of tact to make it very clear what the difference between the two is, but I think it could be interesting because of the contrast.

    I also thought this was particularly interesting:

    This is what I read in Scripture, and it informs my worldview that permeated even my fictive worldviews.

    Because I’ve noticed the exact same thing, especially in works I’ve read. When I read a work by an author I don’t know, I can tell whether the author is a Christian or not. Even when the character’s beliefs are never mentioned, it’s easy to tell the difference.  I’ve noticed atheist/agnostic authors’ characters might have a disregard for human life.

    And the most telling factor, the characters’ morals are all over the place. They twist and turn as occasion and plot require. They’ll simultaneously condemn the villains for doing something and then do it themselves with no qualms without the narrative pointing out that it’s wrong. It yanks me out of the book faster than anything else. I’ll completely disconnect from the characters, especially when I realize that if the narrative was switched so the villains were the main characters, I’d despise the heroes.

    Not to say that Christian authors never fall into the trap, but I’ve noticed that the author’s moral compass leaks into the characters’ subconsciously.

    That seems to be something some writers do, but I only think it appeals to me if they are loners because they are the only ones who will take the moral stand in the midst of collective cowardice.  I think every hero needs a support system, and some mentorship to affirm them, but failing that, they need to have a faith foundation and a relationship that encourages them towards the “good”.

    Entirely correct! It’s often glorified, while self-isolation is a response to trauma and an unhealthy coping mechanism. It does happen, but it shouldn’t be painted as a good thing unless it is the hero standing alone because of moral issues. People need human connection. (As we’ve all realized in the past year and a half)

    Ah yes. I’ve seen this one used many times.  Seems like Marvel and DC Comics movies do this a lot.  The villain indicates to the hero that they are just a side-step away from each other, walking on the opposite side of an arbitrary line of justice.

    I didn’t realize it had been done so often. (Possibly because superhero movies are generally not my genre XD) “We’re not so different” is a fairly common trope, mostly because it contrasts the hero and villain and sets them up as foils for each other. It has an interesting effect when it’s used correctly.

    You’ve raised some good points.  Sign me up for your next “TedTalk”.  I’ll be there will bells on.

    I’ll remember that next time I write two pages on a very specific subject 😉

     

     

     

    Without darkness, there is no light. If there was no nighttime, would the stars be as bright?

    #136730
    Rose
    @rose-colored-fancy

    @writergirl101

    Yes!  I know what you mean!  That always happens to me… it’s like “wait, you weren’t supposed to be that important!” XD

    For me, I just kinda roll with it, because hero characters are fun and they just deserve the spotlight, right?

    Exactly! Weird how that always happens! XD Totally, hero characters are actually way more fun than they’re given credit for.

    (Also, a lot of my hero characters *cough* love interests *cough* end up changing from bad to good and then they display all that good heroism stuff, lol!  But yeah, my love interests make me so happy…  I don’t think there’s ever been one I didn’t like!! XD)

    That’s awesome! I love redemption arcs, I have at least one in my WIP. I honestly always struggle with love interests XD They’re so often too boring. Still, I think I’m improving with them slightly XD

    Without darkness, there is no light. If there was no nighttime, would the stars be as bright?

    #136737
    Ella
    @writergirl101

    @rose-colored-fancy

    With love interests, I always like to try to make them the most interesting person second to the MC.  If that means developing them for hours or giving them a fascinating backstory or some fatal flaw that keeps getting triggered.  I think love interests with a strong goal+fatal flaw+a sense of humor=amazingness!

    Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn.

    #136738
    Brian Stansell
    @obrian-of-the-surface-world

    @rose-colored-fancy

    Hello Rose (good morning or afternoon to you! 😊)

    Thank you again for raising this important topic.  It is so good to have these conversations to make us clarify and examine the seeds of stories.

    You could use it for a character arc where the “hero” finds out that they were wrong/evil because they were defining their own morals.

    I do think it is interesting, and, in fact, quite common for even faith-holding characters, who “know the good they should do” ( Jam. 4:17, Rom. 7:23 & 1 Tim. 1:8-9) to misunderstand or “reason it out” in their own human thinking alone and then take a path to what they think is “the good”, only to find that they did not rely on God’s direction and find themselves doing something that causes hardship and pain.  They miss the yielding to the Spirit’s leading.

    I think of Abraham and Sarah, trying to reason out how God was going to make Abraham the “father of many” when they were both in their nineties.  Sarah came up with a plan to have Abraham take Hagar as a surrogate, to “achieve” what she had secretly laughed at when the angels told Abraham of the promise.  Now, out of that the Jewish nation (from Isaac) and the Arabs nations (from Ishmael) have been in conflict ever since.  Isaac’s very name means “laughter”, because of Sarah’s incredulity.

    Saul, before he had the Damascus road experience and was renamed Paul, “thought” he was performing “good” to pursue and expose and capture the errant “Christian” sect before Jesus confronted him.

    In my own WIP, my main character is gravely mistaken in what he believes to be his mission in being brought back into “The Mid-World” to lead a group of his fellow Surface Worlders in a quest.  His personal reasoning, while well-intentioned, almost gets his entire team killed, because he is fixated on rectifying the wrong he had done on the prior quest, where he had been one of the “followers” under prior leadership.  He is obsessed with retrieving the one Virtue stone from the dangerous villain that his action had led to the creature’s possession of it.   He fears failure so much that it cripples him in his building trust with his team, and hampers his leadership.  Because of his carrying the guilt of his own past sins as his own penance, he gains no clarity until he is forced to forgive himself and let God take the burden on His shoulders and apply the blood payment for the sin it was.  This MC has a problem of trying to be his own savior, and that is idolatry and God claims that position alone.  This is my MC’s main character arc.  His greatest villain, even though there are some very bad ones in the story, is himself and his own inability to surrender his guilt to God.  That is a problem of “well-intentioned” characters, that I felt compelled to explore. It is what Peter was conveying in the Scripture.  God doesn’t give us a choice in His imperative command:

    Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle [you]. [1 Peter 5:7-10 KJV]

    Redemption arcs are wonderful, but there are avenues that have not really been explored in most fiction, and this is one of them.  Sometimes we Christians have to come to the place where we recognize that “God’s working in us” is an ongoing process that will reach its promised conclusion, however, we still battle with our old way of thinking and dealing with personal failure.  We cannot carry our guilt.  Its burden is too heavy.  We must surrender it, or we will find ourselves doing more harm to ourselves and others.  Jesus must empower our yielded surrender to do works of repentance.  (Eph. 3:20-21) But we are no longer under the death threat of it, because of Christ’s accomplished work at the Cross.

    [There is] therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. [Romans 8:1 KJV]

    The self-condemnation should be a done deal. Jesus took our condemnation upon Himself, paid it with His precious blood, and said, “It is finished.”

    For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not be subject again to the yoke of slavery. [Galatians 5:1 NET]

    My story has a clash of worldviews.  It serves as a converging point where these will ultimately meet on a battlefield because they all seek power and control.
    It occurs to me that especially among villains, there are none so dangerous as those who firmly believe they are doing good according to a worldview that does not yield power to The Almighty but rather seeks to take it.

    • This reply was modified 2 months, 2 weeks ago by Brian Stansell. Reason: missing a word

    Brian Stansell (aka O'Brian of the Surface World)
    I was born in war.
    Fighting from my first breath.

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