From the seasoned one…

What makes a good hero in fiction?

This is a hard question to answer actually.  If you ask someone what is a hero, most will answer, someone who puts the good of others before himself/herself and is willing to risk himself/herself to help others.  However, when you’re reading a novel, what do you want to see in your heroes?

Everyone has their “white list” of attributes:

  • Brave
  • Good fighter
  • Strong
  • Smart
  • Handsome/beautiful

However, these attributes alone makes a “perfect” person in essence, someone who is utterly boring when it comes to good fiction.  Most people would agree, when reading fiction, an interesting hero is someone who has faults and rises above them to accomplish what is needed to save the day.

Heroes rarely wear white hats and flaunt their accomplishments for the world to see as the Lone Ranger did.  Today’s heroes are usually the everyday kind of person that you could pass in the street and not even recognize as a hero, and no, I’m not talking about super hero secret identities.

There are also many types of heroes.  Sometimes the best heroes are the accidental heroes that just happen to be in the right place at the right time and step up to the plate.  When you’re talking about fiction though, is this the kind of hero that inspires you?

What about the bad guy (or anti-hero) who switches positions at the last minute and saves the day?  Is this the kind of hero that creates a good story?  It’s possible, if the bad guy shows enough good attributes to make his about face realistic.  You need serious reader buy-in for this kind of turnabout to work well.

Some heroes are children such as Harry Potter or Pippi Longstocking.  These characters usually grow into their hero roles as they learn who they are and how the world around them affects their decisions.  With child heroes, you usually have someone with more knowledge who guides them along the way.

Then there is the sci-fi heroes, who have super powers of some sort and decide to use them for the better of the human race, Superman or Spiderman, anyone?

The type of hero you use also depends on the time period and geographic location you’re writing in.  If you’re writing about 18th century England, the type of hero you depict will be very different from an 18th century American Western hero.  As another example, a ninja warrior wouldn’t fit into 18th century English nobility, but a rascally second son of a lord who acts the rake but spies for his country does.

So going back to the original question, what makes a good hero in fiction?  Beyond the original short list, I’ve come up with a few more attributes:

  • An interesting personality that makes the reader want to learn more about them.  Personally, I like smart-ass heroes, but that’s just my preference.
  • Everybody wants a handsome/beautiful hero, but I would argue that everyday looking or even disfigured heroes can make great story characters.
  • Courageous.  I actually like heroes that show their fear, but still move forward to save the day.
  • Perseverance.  As a writer, I tend to put my heroes through hell.  An average person would probably walk away from all the walls I put up in their way.  A hero perseveres to reach the end of their journey.
  • Has common sense.  I actually put this above intelligence and bravery.  The smartest person in the world can have absolutely no common sense and the bravest person always faces his fear, but the one with common sense gets the hell out of the way when a racing car is heading right for them.
  • Has faults.  I like heroes that make mistakes along the way.  Nothing is more satisfying than a reader who calls my hero an idiot for some of their actions, but can’t stop reading the story to see if they succeed in the end.
  • Is redeemable.  This plays into the last one.  Yes, every hero needs to have faults.  However, they must also be redeemable for the users to buy into their heroic actions later.
  • Sacrificial.  This one doesn’t always mean giving up their life to save the day.  Sometimes, the hero gives up something that means a lot to him or her.  As a more humorous example, the confirmed bachelor lord in 18th century England who gives up his “freedom” and marries a lady in trouble.  Some men may see this as giving up their life to save the day.

While this is my list of attributes, I’m sure there are many others that fit the bill and that there are others with opinions on what those most important attributes should be.  Above all, have fun creating your hero, make him or her a character that the readers will identify with and you’ve won half the battle.

Until next time…

From the seasoned one…

Creating new and original characters in an established fandom:

What do people want when they’re reading fanfiction?  To answer that, you have to understand what fanfiction is.  Fanfiction is a story based on the characters of a book, movie, or television show, not written by the original authors.  Fanfiction is written by fans of the original material.  The stories are the fans’ way of showing appreciation for the material they fell in love with or to make something occur in the story that didn’t happen in the original material.  For example, romantic pairings of characters.

Therefore, when a fan is reading fanfiction, they are looking for the things that drew them to the original material to begin with.  A writer needs to keep these things in mind as they’re writing fanfiction and adding new, original characters.

New, original characters are great in fanfiction.  They change things up, expand plots, and allow the writer to explore aspects of the story’s universe they might not be able to explore if they just stick to using the established characters.  However, one must be careful when adding original characters.  If they don’t fit properly in that story’s universe, the writer risks turning off the readers, causing them to abandon the rest of the story.  Can you imagine a nun showing up in Star Wars?

Creating characters for an established fandom is a lot like creating characters for original works of fiction in that:

  • You don’t want to write Mary Sue’s or Marty Stu’s.  Characters that are so utterly perfect that a reader can’t relate to them.
  • In the reverse, don’t make the character so stupid or unappealing that a reader wonders how they managed to make it out of diapers.
  • If the character is a villain, don’t make them a total idiot that wouldn’t be able to find their way onto a bus.  Challenge the readers with a dubious, intelligent villain.

However, when it comes to adding new, original characters within an established fandom, keep in mind:

  • There needs to be a reason for them to be there.  Do they appear just in time to save the day?  Does the character create a love triangle between an established pairing to add drama?  What’s their purpose?  An added character without a purpose is just a waste of ink and time.
  • Don’t add so many original characters that you completely push out the established characters and the story is no longer about the established characters or their world.  This goes back to the original question of what do fanfiction readers expect when they read fanfiction?  Do you think you can hold their attention if 90% of the story is about characters who never crossed the street in the original material?

Just a couple of other random tips.  We don’t know these new characters and you have to treat them that way.  Most of the time in fanfiction, you’re dropping in established characters from a series or book.  You don’t have to spend a lot of time introducing their character or describing them since the reader knows them from the original material.  However, with new, original characters, the writer needs to remember we don’t know anything about them.

  • Build a history for them and introduce it a little at a time in such a way that it works with the story, but don’t do an info dump to catch us up.  When giving people details, they will only remember a small portion of them or will get bored and skip ahead to get to the story once more if there is too much.  Don’t give the readers information overload.
  • Like any other new character, we need to picture them.  Give us enough details of what they look like to build a picture, but let our own imaginations work as well.

Adding characters is a great way to explore a fandom’s universe.  Have a great time creating them and happy writing!