A Life Of Fiction LXXXVIII

For those of you new to this WordPress site, this site is about me and my writing – and a little about my role-playing, as well. It gives readers a chance to sample my work before purchasing it on the Kindle store; and gives me the chance to say a little about the genesis of each novel, or about the process of writing in general.


Flawed heroes: Last time I discussed trying to make villains more interesting by giving them some sympathetic characteristics. This time I would like to talk about the flawed hero.

I don’t like perfect heroes. They tend to be a bit dull. Spider-man, with his character flaws and problems, I find to be a more interesting character than Superman, if we consider heroes in comics.

The next headings are not really archetypes – the archetype is the hero with a flaw – but character problems which you might give to your heroes to make them more interesting to the reader.

Alcoholism: The hero has a problem which he pours out of a bottle. But that should not be enough for any novelist. Why is the hero an alcoholic? What has happened in the past to drive him to drink? Just making him weak towards drink suggests some back-story which you should explore. Maybe his family died and that is why he has to lose himself in the bottle.

It is on overcoming such problems and character flaws that a person proves that he is the hero. He has to overcome his addiction to achieve what he must. Whether gin or beer, he has to defeat these villains so that he can take on the real bad guy of your tale.

You could substitute other dependencies for alcoholism, especially if writing in Victorian times, when drugs were legal. Maybe your hero has a seven percent solution to the problems of his world.

An example from the world of comics was Tony Stark (Iron Man), who had big problems with alcoholism in his past. Sherlock Holmes had the seven percent solution mentioned above. In the film From Hell (I have only read a bit of the comic) Johnny Depp plays an Abberline who is a bit too deep into absinthe (one of my weaknesses of choice).

Vengeance: While still operating within the law, the hero has an overriding need for revenge against somebody or something which drives him onwards. Perhaps his family was murdered by criminals. Perhaps he went to prison after being framed, and he wants to get that person back.

This flaw can almost turn a hero into a villain. In Marvel Comics the Punisher becomes so ruthless, after his family is murdered, that he is not much better than some of the people he kills. Murder is murder.

The trick with a vengeful hero is not to go too far. You want the reader to be able to empathise with your protagonist.

Examples from fiction include the Count of Monte Cristo.

A lack of empathy: A character with this tends not to relate that well to other characters around him. He or she might appear standoffish, or they might simply have great problems relating to other characters. It could be a character who favours thought and logic over such base things as emotions. It could simply be somebody who is a little cold.

An example from the world of literature would be Sherlock Holmes. Holmes was sometimes more interested in the mystery than the people involved in whatever was going on. He was more interested than logic in people’s feelings, which could sometimes make him appear callous.

The outsider: This is a hero who really does not fit into the society which he is trying to protect. People might not like him, or understand him. He is a stranger in a stranger land, and that can lead him to making errors.

Perhaps the hero could be black in a Victorian society. Such a character would always be an outsider, and would find racism directed towards him. Even those people who claimed to admire him would only do so because they though that he was an example of the ‘noble savage’.

The hero could be a human being on an alien world, if you are into science fiction. Having such an outsider means that the hero would constantly have to have the aliens explain things which he did not understand. That allows the reader, at the same time, to learn about the alien world, without it feeling like forced exposition.

A time traveller to the past might be another example; or maybe a traveller to the distant future (such as in H G Wells’ The Time Machine).

Another example from the world of literature would be Thomas Covenant (in the books by Stephen Donaldson). He is an alien to the Land, and does some pretty bad stuff when he first gets to that world.

   The physically flawed hero: A hero does not have to have mental or societal problems. The flaws which he has to overcome might be purely physical ones. He has some physical handicap which makes it hard for him to be a hero, but he succeeds nevertheless, transcending his physical limitations.

There are a whole host of such heroes, from the worlds of books, comics and TV programmes. Ones which come to mind include the blind superhero, Daredevil; Professor X, confined to a wheelchair; Ironside, the TV detective, also in a wheelchair; Thomas Covenant, suffering with the numbing effects of leprosy; the one-eyed Nick Fury, Agent of Shield; and so on.

To the above list you could add heroes who are weak due to being old. After all Jane Marple, one of the greatest detectives of all, was not really a spring chicken. yet I don’t think that she ever failed to solve one of her mysteries.

The braggart: The character thinks too highly of himself. He always thinks that he is the hero, when he is not. He may be a glory hound.

Or, perhaps, he is in fact a bit of a coward, and his boasting is to cover up the fact that he is not actually all that heroic. Perhaps he really doesn’t want to be a good guy – he just wants people to stop trying to kill him.

Examples from the works of literature would be Flashman. He is both a braggart and a coward.


I think that’s enough for this post. Next post I will return to the matter of obscure words.


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