When is Your Hero Not a Hero?

Man baby crying

I Need a Hero

It happens to all writers at some time or another. We fancy a certain character as the Hero of our story only to discover that he falls flat by the end of the tale. He just doesn’t…well…he just doesn’t feel heroic enough.

So, how do we avoid having a damp squib for a Hero? Here, courtesy of William M. Akers, is a list of suggestions:

1. A Hero is active. He initiates action, reaches for his goal and never quits until the bad guy is defeated and the goal achieved. In Edge of Tomorrow, Tom Cruise keeps coming back to life again and again in an attempt to defeat the mimics.

2. A Hero has a well defined problem—one main problem that she needs to solve in order to win the prize, save the day, get the boy. This problem is as much something she has to learn about herself, as it is a physical obstacle she has to overcome. The physical problem is merely a reflection of an inner need or flaw that has to be addressed.

3. The Hero’s problem must be interesting to an audience. The bigger the stakes implicit in the problem, the more interested we will be in his plight. In Breaking Away, the hero struggles to discover whether he is a bike rider or a stone cutter. This may not be much of a problem for you or me, but it is a problem for this particular character. Since we identify with the hero, we, too, desire that he solve it, and that he do so in an intriguing way.

4. The Hero must solve his own problem. Although the Hero may have allies and sidekicks, it is he who must take the lead in solving the problem and achieving the goal. Aimless, unfocused protagonists who drift in and out of fuzzy situations are best left for art films with niche followings, because they will not prove popular with mainstream audiences, (with one or two notable exceptions.)

These, then, are some of the characteristics that define the Hero in your story. So, when is your Hero not a Hero? When he fails to tick most, if not all, of these boxes.


Heroes are active problem-solvers whose actions drive the story forward. They are leaders not followers.


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Image: Daveynin
License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode

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