As writers – we get to make up people. And of course, as someone who writes about love and relationships, that means I get to make up my heroes. Whenever I start a new book – I think about the hero and how to make the best hero. The perfect hero..,
And the answer – to be perfect he has to be imperfect.
It’s the imperfections that make him believable. We will fall in love with him – not despite his imperfections – but BECAUSE of them.
All the things that make him a hero have both a positive and a negative side – and the fun comes with deciding how to use the light and shade to create a character.
I’ve made a list… because lists are good.
By strength – I don’t mean muscles. Although, let’s face it, there’s nothing wrong with muscles. By strength I mean strength of purpose. Someone who will stand by his decisions and convictions in the face of all opposition. Think of Frodo Baggins in Lord of the Rings. He’s three feet tall and has furry feet. He’s not a great warrior – but he is the one to save the world. The fact that he does not have great physical strength highlights the strength of purpose he has.
Then, at the very end of his quest, he weakens… he hesitates before destroying the ring. His sense of purpose fails. That highlights for us how difficult the journey has been. How powerful evil can be if it has corrupted even Frodo.
Of course – it all ends well. That was never in doubt.
We know this man – Bruce Willis would play him in an actin film. He saves the world, tackles the bad guys and puts himself in harm’s way to save a stranger. Or a dog.
But his courage works best when balanced against something he’s afraid of. Something that makes him vulnerable. Or something in his past that weakens him. This is the policeman hero who has fallen into drink and disrepute because of something in his past. Guilt over the death of a partner or a child.
The real courage of this hero is that he eventually overcomes his past to become the man we all know he is meant to be.
We love an honourable man. A man who knows what is right and will defend it. He will draw a line in the sand and say – this far and no further. We can trust this man to do the right thing.
For me, the honourable hero is Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. He is unswerving in his belief in justice. But when we see him through Scout’s eyes at the start of the book, she’s disappointed that he is not like other fathers. He doesn’t do the things that other fathers do. By the end of the book, of course, she has come to recognise his courage and to understand him. In this case, the flaw is no so much a real flaw, as a flaw perceived by the narrator. Or perhaps his flaw is that he is not the perfect father.
Smart is sexy. But it’s more than that. We want to be able to look to our heroes for help in a crisis. The hero will figure out who the murderer is, or how to escape the locked room. Or the cure for a disease. Quite often these super smart men will have an innocence or a sense of other-worldliness that is very appealing.
Star Trek’s Mr Spock (played by Leonard Nimoy) was a hero of my childhood. I wanted to be as smart as him. I was desperately in love with him when I was about twelve. Of course, his flaw is centred on emotion. Vulcans are not supposed to have them. But he is half human and does. He spends his entire life trying to overcome the emotions that he sees as a flaw… while the rest of us see his lack of emotion as his flaw.
And there’s the whole business with the Pon Farr mating ritual every seven years. That is a bit of an issue too.
Funny is sexy. That’s why we love romantic comedies so much. A hero who can make us smile will brighten the dark times. Even better if he can laugh at himself. We know we will enjoy the company of this hero.
In the world of films, Hugh Grant typifies the hero with a sense of humour. It’s all those lovely rom coms. He is funny, but he always flawed – the humour disguises something deeper. Shyness. Or loneliness. Or fear. Or pain.
What we want is to see past the jokes to what lies beneath.
Let’s be honest here – no-one wants to be poor. There’s a reason the heroes in fairy tales tend to be princes. Castles are much better than a peasant’s hovel.
I write contemporary fiction, and in today’s world, rich often means workaholic. That’s the flaw. Our hero has to sacrifice a lot on the altar of success. Or, if he’s one of those princes, there’s the paparazzi and protocol and all that to deal with.
The challenge with this hero is to find something – someone – who will make him step off the fast track. Of course, we really don’t want him to lose all that money.
We all love a good looking hero. It’s easy the add flaws to a good looking hero – he can be vain. Or he can have too many women trying to seduce him.
But – a hero doesn’t have to be handsome. If he has a good helping of the above traits, we are going to fall in love with him anyway. But… it’s not going to hurt if he looks like Brad Pitt.
So that’s my list – have I left anything out? Apart from Mr Darcy of course… who, for many readers, remains the quintessential flawed hero.
Which flawed heroes have you fallen in love with? And why?