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Finding the Hero

posted Aug 22, 2017, 7:05 AM by Ben Kreucher
It's easy to know a good hero from a poor one. The protagonist's journey defines him. If she isn't on a journey, the reader can't experience the emotional growth; there's no connection and therefore no reason to continue reading.

In a story, if a person suffers brain damage, the next scene doesn't show them recovered and giving a public speech. If a person breaks their legs, the next scene doesn't show them winning a marathon. The journey is more important than the destination.

The journey shows the heroine's heart, her character, her spirit. We want to see it. We need to see it. It helps us understand something about ourselves, something we carry yet hide from the world. It isn't that we want to remain broken, but becoming whole is a journey of many steps.

The most compelling stories don't have the protagonist overcoming every obstacle. The protagonist must wrestle with demons--in the fantasy genre, that might be taken literally--battle back from defeat, and persevere sometimes against great odds.

We want to see all that. We don't want to be told, "Percival went out to slay the dragon. On the way, he lost his squire to a hungry bear. After many days and many obstacles, finally, Percival arrived at the dragon's cave. The maiden inside screamed. The dragon roared. Percival slew the dragon. The knight returned the lady to her home." That might be the outline for a story, but it's not a story. 

There's no depth, no character. No one cares whether Percival succeeds or fails. We don't see Percival's reaction to his squire's death. We don't know how the knight slew the dragon. We don't see the journey, only the victory. It seems too easy and the story becomes a hollow shell.

We want to know how the hero grows because we want to grow. Maybe we don't all want to be knights, but everyone longs to be the hero of his own story. No woman simply wants to be the damsel in distress. She isn't content with that. No man desires to remain on the sidelines of the big game.

Yet, we allow ourselves to sit on the couch of our own lives. We've benched ourselves because of fear or insecurity or a million other reasons. We should take one step today toward the best version of ourselves. That's what our favorite heroes from literature do.

The most memorable protagonists don't follow a straight line. They falter and fumble and fall, but never give up. They keep moving forward, keep striving toward a goal no matter how far away it seems. They may be patient, they may be relentless, or they may just want to prove to themselves or someone else that they can. There are a variety of motivations that drive the heroine along her journey and sometimes they change. Additional things may become important and may be added to drive her, but always at the center is the main motivation that guides everything she does.

Nail down that and you've got the beginnings of an awesome character that will compel people to keep reading and (hopefully) inspire them.
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