by Jamie Freveletti
A couple of weeks ago I blogged about writing the damaged protagonist, and promised to discuss writing a hero. Writing heroes, especially in the current climate where damaged protagonists are the norm, can be tough. Currently, even protagonists that were initially written as heroes have been altered in later incarnations to be damaged.
For example, in Ludlum’s novel, The Bourne Identity, Jason Bourne was actually a good guy working for an undercover CIA operation and charged with finding “Carlos” the international assassin. He spent most of the novel concerned that he may be an assassin, and is relieved to finally learn that he was not.
Fast forward twenty years to the movies starring Matt Damon and the Jason Bourne character is altered to be the assassin, not the hero, and he spends his time learning the horrific truth. The movie goes through quite a few twists to show that Bourne was brainwashed into being the bad player.
Why are damaged protagonists in vogue? As I blogged earlier, I think it’s because the damaged individual gives the writer a built in conflict between the character and the demons he or she faces. In a novel, conflict is king. Without it, you got nothin.’ Additionally, damaged characters can engage in a lot of edgy behavior and the reader will buy it a whole lot quicker than if the character was presented without emotional baggage.
So what does this mean for writing heroes? A lot. It means that you need to present someone as inherently decent who does the right thing in the face of bad actors, and you need to make that courage ring true. People love to root for heroes, but they need to be portrayed as believable as well. This presents a challenge for the writer, because a lot of behavior that might be interesting to write about with regard to the damaged character is off limits to the hero. The hero can't step off the line of good, needs to treat others with respect, and yet still be multi-dimensional enough to keep the readers turning pages.
I write a female hero, and it feels right for me. She doesn't cringe from danger, doesn't wait for the men to save her-she saves the men- and she deals with them on an equal basis. This last bit of information is key when writing a female hero, because she needs to make the final decisions and propel the action forward. If she defers to the men she's not the hero, she's a supporting character.
The better known writers have FBI agents, detectives, cops, ex-Secret Service agents and former military written by Rollins, Baldacci, Grafton and Child. All of these writers get it when it comes to writing heroes. Their protagonists are the kind of people you’d want in your corner or shoulder to shoulder with you in that bar when the guy with the pool cue is aiming at your head. There’s something reassuring about a man or woman character that you can depend on to outwit evil, and who has never felt the need to wallow in it. Perhaps they’re coming back into fashion, or maybe never went out of fashion, but they’re fun to write and even better to read.
I'd love to hear about your favorite hero protagonist-book or movie!