Saturday, July 14, 2012

Building a Hero

by Anna Kathryn Lanier

NOTE:  I'm detouring from the blog's normal 'western' theme the authors use here on Sweethearts of the West.  My life is still in chaos, but I do think I see light at the end of the tunnel (Hopefully by September!).  So anyway, I searched my files and found this blog post I've done on Roses of Houston's how to build a hero.....mythical qualities your hero should have.  Read them and then please share how you've incorporated some of them into your hero (or heroine) - AKL

James Frey in THE KEY:  How to Write Damn Good Fiction Using the Power of Myth tells how to build a hero.  He lists the time-tested qualities a hero should have and suggests that leaving out a few of these qualities is a kin to leaving out a few spark plugs when you do a tune-up on your car.  On the other hand, there is more to a hero than mythological motifs and heroic qualities.

A hero must also be “three-dimensional, interesting, passionate and dramatically driven.”

Frey’s list of myth-based heroic qualities are listed on pages 46-47 of his book, followed by a brief explanation.  I’m going to make the explanations even briefer, but based on what Frey wrote.

A hero must be or possess:

1)       Courage – readers are repelled by a hero who lacks courage.
2)      Cleaver and Resourceful – he does not need special knowledge. “In fact, it often helps the story if your clever and resourceful hero is lacking in the specific skills required by the situation.” A fish-out-of-water sort of thing.
3)      Special Talent – it does not necessarily have to be used in the course of her mission. Examples, according to Frey: photographic memory, psychic powers, tossing horseshoe ringers, picking winners at the track, growing prize winning flowers, shooting an arrow with amazing accuracy, talents of deduction to solve a crime.
4)      Is an “outlaw” – he plays by his own rules, not society’s.  Examples: Colombo, Scrooge, Michael Corleone, McMurphy (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest).  If you don’t want an extreme ‘outlaw,’ he only needs to be rebellious.
5)       Good at what she does for a living – Scarlett O’Hara’s job at the beginning of Gone With The Wind is to attract beaus and she uses her charm to achieve her goal.
6)      The hero is the Protagonist – he takes the lead in the story.
7)      Has been wounded – the wound can be physical, psychological, spiritual, or social.  She is maimed, disgraced, or lost a loved one, for example.  Anything to cause suffering…the hero needs to suffer.
8)      Motivated by Idealism – He “is not motivated by selfish reasons, but sacrifices himself for the good of others.”
9)      Sexually Potent – Yeah, need I say more?

The above are qualities every hero should possess.  Below is a list of qualities he may possess, but doesn’t necessarily have to possess:

1)       Having Hubris – a big head (conceited)
2)      Stoical
3)      Loyal
4)      Sexually appealing
5)      Physically superior
6)      A special birth
7)      Have a special destiny
8)      Special brand—tattoo, birthmark, scar
9)      Sometimes cynical
10)   Mouthy or sharp-tongued
11)    A Flaw – though if he has a wound, a flaw isn’t really needed.

This is the inventory to get you started on creating your hero.  How will you use it to attract readers?

Resource: THE KEY: How to Write Damn Good Fiction Using the Power of Myth
By James N. Frey ISBN 0-312-30052-2

Anna Kathryn Lanier


  1. Anna Kathryn, thanks for the reminders. Never hurts to have a nudge toward the right course. Hope things are settling down for you and soon your life will be back to "normal."

  2. Hi, Carolyn. I know I need to refer to the list more often! Things are on track, it's just a matter of getting them, while trying to live the 'normal' life, too. It's coming together, just taking time.

  3. I have failed James Frey's course in how to write a hero. In my opinion, maybe he's the one that missed the boat.
    My heroes almost always have a flaw, and sometimes so much so, that we're not sure he'll ever come through. This has been pointed out to me as maybe having a slightly weak hero. However, my books usually get top reviews, so I don't think it's a big problem.
    My heroes generally must be rehabilitated or redeemed. Redemption is the biggest part of my hero's life.
    My heroes are a little short-sighted, not seeing the heroine's real wishes or desires, and he's a teeny bit dense.
    Susan Elizabeth Philips writes great heroes--Ted Beaudine, the darling of the town and state and the world, thinks all he must do is satisfy a woman sexually and he's won. But along comes one certain female, who does not respond as he's used to, and he knocks himself out trying different tactics. Poor,poor Ted. It takes most of the book for him to figure it out.
    Love that Ted Beaudine!!!
    Anna Kathyn, this was an excellent post, and rather timely for me. I needed a refresher course, for sure.

  4. Fun Anna Kathryn. I run with what is in my heart on building my heroes. I guess I fall in love with all of them so I'd better keep my qualifications high.

    I am saving your great list.

  5. Hi Anna Kathryn, I try to have real-life inspiration, too. Hubby comes to mind LOL. I love the info here.


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