The Heroic Hero of Heroism: How to Write a Hotshot Who’s Not Too Hot
Posted by erikthereddest
Hello everyone! Tis I, EriktheReddest here to grace these hallowed halls of literary whatsits with my particular blend of typically science-fiction related writing helps and general critiques. Today’s topic: the hero of the story. While the viewpoint character in a story is not always the main mover of plot (often depending on what voice you’re using), if you intend to write a central heroic character who exhibits extraordinary characteristics, you need to be careful not to overdo it.
We’ve all come across these show-off’s before. They’ve got it all: good looks, rippling muscles, skill with a blade (or blaster, or space ship… heck, why not all three?) and generally are so awesome that it’s a wonder that anything happens to them that’s actually a challenge. It’s already hard enough to make normal characters relateable, but tack superpowers or “Chosen One” status onto chiseled features and uncanny martial prowess, and your reader’s not going to have much in common anymore, which makes your job a lot harder.
Some writers create such heroes that are all that and a bag of chips and try to counter it with (*GASP*) personal problems! Symptoms of an Heroic Hero of Heroism (or HHH for short) include:
- Moodiness (“Nobody understands me…”)
- Trust Issues (“I don’t understand anyone…”)
- Mild Depression (but not too mild, you know, just enough that he/she sighs a lot and gazes dreamily into the sunset)
- Self-Doubt (“I don’t think I can do this… Me? The Chosen One?”)
- Overconfidence (“I can do ANYTHING! I’M THE CHOSEN ONE!”)
- Reluctant Hero Syndrome (“Sure, I’m the Chosen One and am practically unbeatable in every way imaginable, but I just want to just be a simple farm boy!”)
Needless to say, simply slapping on character flaws to try to make your HHH seem more human will not only fail to illicit sympathy or understanding but confound plot, interactions with other characters, and generally make it very difficult to write a good story when everything that happens is so tied up in one character.
You may be asking if I have a particular character in mind when I talk about the tragic effects of HHH, and the unfortunate answer is yes. In fact, this hero became something of a case study after I realized just how much I disliked him.
Richard Cypher: A Study of HHH and It’s Effects On the Reader
Terry Goodkind’s Wizard’s First Rule is honestly a charming and decent fantasy book, if a
bit cliched. I began reading the Sword of Truth series upon the recommendation of a fellow classmate… in Calculus I (my first warning sign, unheeded). My expectations were relatively low, and at the time I was still a Computer Engineering Major, so I had few standards that I held so dear that I would turn my nose up at a story or character for having a few flaws. Here’s a little about Richard from the Sword of Truth Wiki page:
The primary protagonist in Wizard’s First Rule is RichardCypher, a young woods guide. Richard lives in an area of the world known as Westland, which is the only part of the world that at the time contained no magic. Westland is separated from the other lands by a dangerous magical boundary that prevents anyone without powerful magic from passing through it. On the other side of the boundary lie many sovereign nations, jointly known as the Midlands, and the empire of D’Hara. Richard works as a woods guide leading important political figures and travelers through dangerous forests, while his brother’s interests lie entirely in politics.
I don’t think I have to point out the number of cliches present here just in the premise of the book itself, but Richard seems kind of normal at least, right? Not for long! In the first book alone, Richard turns out to be:
- The Son of the Dark Lord Emperor, taking over for him after defeating him to
become the Emperor of D’Hara, a nation of enormous and highly skilled warriors (basically Vikings) that have all but conquered the Midlands under the rule of the Dark Lord Darken Rahl (no that is not intended to be a pun).
- The One True Seeker of Truth, a wielder of the powerful Sword of Truth who acts as a sort of judge and check against the powers of the world
- The son of a wizard (Darken Rahl), and therefore a wizard himself, to be trained by his good buddy Zedd, who turns out to be his Grandad all along (what a twist!).
He goes on in later books to become/discover that he is:
- The husband to the Mother Confessor, a political and magical powerhouse that becomes co-protagonist, giving him instantaneous universal clout with any kingdom across the world that recognizes the Confessors’ power and authority (this is, let me remind you, on top of being the emperor of the largest nation on the continent).
- A super-human sword fighter who wields the skills of all previous users of the Sword of Truth and its indestructible blade that can cut practically anything, including magic itself. He also learns to shoot a bow and arrow with his magic so that he basically can’t miss.
- The first War Wizard to be born in over 3000 years, gifted with both halves of magic and therefore the only one who can breach the magical boundaries of the world, use numerous magical artifacts, enter the fabled Temple of the Winds, and eventually save the world from the evil Emperor Jagang by banishing him to the World Without Magic
I’m pretty sure I’m missing a few things (aside from the typical rock-hard abs and charming smile that could stun a crowd of women into awed, swooning silence), but I think that’s more than enough to illustrate my point.
Richard has far too much going on. Terry Goodkind could have packed that much
awesome into five characters and it still might have felt like a bit much. Aside from that, Richard grows very little as a character beyond the first book, and his biggest flaw as a person is that he never grows out of the “Reluctant Hero” faze and instead constantly doubts himself. Aside from that, Richard has many other personal problems to angst about, but all of them seem silly and trite in the context of just how awesome he is and his direct importance in world events.
Please. Learn from this. You should not try to make one person the answer to every problem in your world. Doing so makes it impossible to construct a realistic character and creates a frantic escalation as you struggle to create conflict for your HHH to tackle with his arsenal of awesomeness. The result is at best contrived, at worst utterly boring.
Well, that’s it for today! Since this post turned into an argument by negative example, next week will focus on a positive one from the science fiction realm, Ender Wiggin of Orson Scot Card’s Ender’s Game. Until then, where have you encountered the tragic HHH disease? Let me know in the comments below!
About erikthereddestI'm a Masters student in English, and I love technology and Science Fiction. I am refining and enhancing my (admittedly novice) writing talents under the sage advice of my friends here at Lantern Hollow Press, and with the great many books I am reading from the best authors I can find.
Posted on December 5, 2012, in Authors, Characters, Characters, Cliches, Erik Marsh, Fantasy, Lantern Hollow Press Authors, Richard Cypher, Terry Goodkind, The Sword of Truth Series, Writing Hints and Helps and tagged cliche, fantasy literature, heroes, how to write, Terry Goodkind, The Sword of Truth. Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.