You know it’s funny, a beta reader finished up a book for me recently and told me that my hero in that book was a lot more complicated and messy than they were expecting. When I asked, how so? They told me that unlike my other heroes, this one didn’t seem to have a stand up straight line between right and wrong. Definitely curious now, I asked how so?
Well, they couldn’t really give me an absolute definition. But they said, you know Sam Kane (my hero in Marshal of Hel Dorado), he was a stand up guy. You knew what he stood for. You knew he would do what was right, even as he struggled with it. Jacob Book (one of my two heroes in Cassandra’s Dilemma) was a pretty straight up guy, too. He didn’t like what the heroine was doing, but you were pretty sure that his hard ass would still come down on the right side.
As my beta reader continued in this vein, I asked so what did my hero do in this recent book that was murky? He said, well, nothing. He didn’t want to do the right thing. When pressed, he backed up and said, the hero did do the right thing, he was loyal and self-sacrificing, but he was also a bit of a jackass and pushy and he didn’t necessarily want to be the guy that saved the day. Even if he did do it because it needed to be done. He wasn’t a clear-cut, stand up hero, he was complicated, with complicated motivations and that made for great conflict internally and externally.
You have no idea how happy that made me!
Heroes Can Be Complicated
So what is the point of sharing this with you? Because as an author, I want people to get my characters. They aren’t always easy to understand and sometimes I want to throttle them. I can tell you as straight up as Sam was in that first book, he drove me crazy and Jacob? Yes, his middle name was stubborn and his last name should have been pain in the ass. It’s great to have a hero who is a little murkier, a little less clean cut, because they give you possibilities – possibilities your straight arrow heroes may not take.
I blame all of this, by the way, on Bonnie Tyler and Kevin Bacon. In 1984, I found myself rooting for Ren as the anti-hero in a town that outlawed dancing. Ren didn’t have clear, cut, upstanding motivations. The dude wanted to dance. He wanted to have fun. He wanted to be a teenager, but he had to fight against a moral and ethical code in a town that grieved for dead teenagers. No one in that town was really wrong, no one was really the ‘villain’ — and Ren was a different kind of hero.
He gave the teens a banner to collect around and the town someone to paint as the upstart, troublemaker, but he also forced them to confront their fears and their pain and it wasn’t pretty, and it wasn’t easy. That’s what a real hero does, he does the job that needs to be done whether he wants to or not, whether he gets anything out of it or not.
Every time I sit down to work on a new WIP, I look at my hero or leading man if you will. What qualities do I like? What qualities don’t I like? What are his flaws? How does he overcome them? My heroes are never perfect, sometimes they may seem like they are, but they all have flaws. Some are so hidebound by the rules, they forget that life exists beyond it. Others are blinded by personal history. Others are just down on themselves.
But in my heroes, their strength is the ability to overcome those inherent flaws, to fight and succeed despite them. Is it hard? Absolutely. Do I think my readers will always like them? I hope so, I hope you get to know them and appreciate them for the complicated mix they are. People are complicated and they’re messy and they don’t always get it right.
My hero is the hero because he keeps on trying and he takes action, because it needs to be done. In my books, my heroes are the guys who are there, who stay, who take up the cause, the fight, the job and they do it, because it needs to be done.
So, do you prefer your hero to be clear cut or complicated? Or somewhere in between?