Monday, June 2, 2014

What Makes a Real Hero?

By Celia Yeary
(Subsitute for Paisley Kirkpatrick)

We hear the term "hero" bounced around quite often these days. 
A man who catches a baby falling off a balcony is a "hero." 
A little girl who battles cancer is a "hero." 
A single mom who raises five children alone is a "hero." 
And of course, we honor our military heroes almost on a daily basis.
We love our heroes.

Once labeled a hero, do we expect this same kind of behavior and outcome all the time? Are our heroes fallible in some way? Do they show an unexpected weak side?
Maybe we expect too much.

In this discussion, I'm thinking about fictional heroes. Those of us who write romance, or just read romance, have a concrete idea concerning his qualifications. The sheriff in High Noon, played by Gary Cooper, is one of my all-time favorites.

The "silver screen" has produced countless heroes, and many are featured in westerns. 
Not all are perfect heroes.

John Wayne probably tops the list of the western hero. But even the characters he played were not always our idea of a "good" one.

John Wayne movies which feature him as the perfect hero:
The Big Trail; Stagecoach; Rio Bravo; The Alamo.

 John Wayne movies which feature him as a questionable hero:
The Searchers; True Grit; Reap the Wild Wind; Red River.

In the beginning stages of writing a new story, I expect the hero to act as such. However, as the story progresses, I learn my hero is not a perfect guy. At times, he fails to say the right thing, or he fails to behave in an expected manner, or he even might do something completely against his position.

Reading and searching for attributes that define a hero, I made a list of Common Qualities of a Hero:

In general, a hero is often an average man who cares about his fellow man.
He understands how fragile life is.
He makes the right decision, but if he makes a poor one he can accept the consequences.
He is unselfish, always willing to help someone who needs it.
He stands up for the weak and the less fortunate.
He does not give up.
He is brave even in the face of adversity.
He always tries to do the right thing.

My personal opinion is that our heroes don't always live up to our expectations. How can they? The requirements are quite steep.

Most, if not all, of the heroes I've created are certainly not perfect. They make huge errors in judgment at times, and they disappoint someone who looked up to him or admired him.
So how does this type of hero regain his status?

I like the characteristic "he does not give up." Not one of my heroes gave up--not one. Now that I realize this, I'm pleased with Sam, Buck, Diego, Max, Will, Ricardo, Dalton, Jude, Rick, Matt, Cody, Jesse, Lee, and Alex.
Wow! I created all these heroes, and I love every one of them. In the end, each and every one came through and showed their true spirit--that of a worthy hero.

 Lee King, the hero in my newest release Texas Dreamer, makes many mistakes as a young man. Disgusted with himself, he makes a turn-around and becomes a successful Texas rancher, and eventually a successful oilman. 
When he meets Emilie McDougal, he sees a woman of worth and treats her as such. 
Emilie admires Lee, but knowing little about men--except her father--she's wary of his intentions. Is Lee King as honorable as he seems? Or does he have a secret that might ruin her view of his nature? She eventually learns answers to her thoughts.

-287 pages--Link to Amazon/Kindle 

Link to B and N: 

 Questions to ponder:
Who is your favorite hero of all in a book, a movie, or a television series?
If you're an author, do you still love your heroes after all this time?
If you're a reader, what kind of hero disappoints you or "turns" you off?

Thank you for reading-
Celia Yeary-Romance...and a little bit 'o Texas


  1. You're so right about heroes not needing to be perfect, Celia. I can't help but think of Rooster Cogburn--a paunchy, middle-aged man with a drinking problem. He wasn't perfect, but he sure was a hero. As you mentioned, he never gave up. No matter how desperate things got, he hung in there. Tenacity CAN save the day.
    I always enjoy reading your blogs, Celia. You never stop having something interesting and helpful to say.

  2. Thanks, Sarah! Who can resist a good hero? Even though John Wayne has never been a big favorite of mine, I do have to admit he was THE hero of his time. But I probably liked the movies he made in which he was not the good hero best.
    One such was Red River--Montgomery Cliff as his son. JW did not act the hero in that one. He was arrogant and wanted everyone to do as he said, regardless. At least in the end, he had to admit his son did a good job.
    We could go on and on, couldn't we? I do feel as though we could sit and talk and talk in person.

  3. He does not give up sounds a lot like us writers as well! I guess we're all heroes or heroines!

  4. Years ago I read a book, and the hero was so wounded, and a drinker (it was a medieval) but it was such a great story because he wanted so much to be better for the heroine. I wish I could remember the name. But, the point I'm trying to make, is those types of heroes are very compelling. I wish I could write them, but have yet to go that dark with a hero. One thing I don't care for is heroes who disobey the rules of courtship. This is present in a lot of contemporary novels, and it's very compelling (I'm thinking Linda Howard books). But I think it shows a lack of respect in the hero when he shortcuts the romance, by pressing her, by moving things along too quickly, when he practically stalks her. In the end, it's just a little creepy to me.

  5. Oh, Celia, you know I always expect too much of my heroes! LOL Heck they're wounded and they still have to be a hero!

    All kidding aside, I know what you're talking about with heroes. And I agree with you, Kristy--I don't like the pressure, the "near stalking" etc. in contemporary novels of today. I will say, my heroes and heroines do tend to move along at a pretty fast clip relationship-wise, but it's usually because there is an outside circumstance that is forcing them to depend on one another in ways that normally might not come to a relationship for years. They have to trust one another much sooner than they otherwise might have.

    Very interesting blog, Celia, as always. I love to talk about heroes. And your heroes are always so yummy.


  6. There you go, Morgan. As authors we certainly do have DWABS--Dog With A Bone Syndrome. I don't think we'd be doing this if we didn't have that personality trait.
    Thanks for pointing that out.

  7. Kristy--I couldn't do the dark side of mankind either. But I have read a book or two with a hero such as the one you're describing.
    I read a lot of Linda Howard books, until she moved further into the crime scene/mystery kind of romances. I, too, greatly dislike that pushy kind of guy. I think those are found more in contemporary novels than in Westerns, though. I think I'm right--maybe not. I fear our society has encouraged these kinds of romances.
    I don't appreciate the Alpha kind of hero.
    Thanks for your thoughts--You always have good ones!

  8. Cheryl--oh, I hoped you'd comment! You're the queen of imperfect heroes who turn out to be a knight in shining armor! It's great characterization to create a hero who didn't intend to be one, but is forced into the role. Maybe all of them are to an extent, but few authors can accomplish this in a short span of time so well.

    Remember the old westerns featuring Roy Rogers or Gene Autry? Looking back I don't see them portrayed as reluctant or flawed at all. I think in those days, the hero wore the white hat because he and we already knew he was, and he expected to be.

    But look at the Clint Eastwood movie--Forgiven. Wow, what a great character he played--as down and out as any one could be, but he gritted his teeth and did what he had to do. The only thing I hated about that is he left his children alone. I worried about that all through the movie.

    Thanks so much for your input. As always, you have very good points.

  9. Great post, Celia. You named one of my favorite heroes, Gary Cooper in "High Noon." One of the things about a hero is that he doesn't start out to be a hero, he simply sees a need and follows up. I love the John Wayne quote you used about being brave. Great job.

  10. good post! One of my favorite current heroes is Raylan Givens from Justified. He's not perfect, but he tries!

  11. Awesome post, Celia Raylan Givens does it for me. While a hero does need imperfections, I also heard in a RWA sessions to give villains some teensie redeemable thing.

  12. Enjoyed your post very much, Celia. I am a big fan of the flawed, reluctant hero. Though not a western, I loved the character Sawyer in tv's LOST. Initially we see nothing likeable or even redeemable about this guy. If anything, he almost goes overboard to alienate himself from others. But as the series progressed, and we learned more about his backstory and the scars he has carried, you see it is all a defensive shield combined with regret and self-loathing. There is more to him than meets the eye. In the end he becomes a self-sacrificing hero whose character arc is enjoyable and emotional to watch unfold. I think flawed heroes are more relatable to the reader, but there must be that spark or glimmer of goodness we think we alone can see. :)

  13. Caroline--I remember that you also love Gary Cooper in High Noon. To me, this is an all-time matter what some naysayers have said.
    Glad you liked the JW quote--it works for me.

  14. D'Ann--Where have I been????? I Googled "Justified" and Raylan Givens and loved the story behind the movie. I especially love the actor who plays him. And the author Elmore Leonard has always been tops with me. Thanks for mentioning this--must check it out and see if there are still some episodes.

  15. Tanya--You, too??? This is the first I've heard about Raylan Givens, but now I will remember.
    I redeemed the best/worst villain I ever wrote in All My Hope and Dreams--the Spanish mother-in-law. She was quite wicked and did everything she could to drive a wedge between her beloved son and the Anglo woman he married. Many readers said the best character in that book was Felicitas. She pretty much stole the show. But after a real comeuppance and near death, I did redeem her. After all, being a grandmother for the first time softened her heart.

  16. Ashley--I never watched LOST, but I know about it. Interesting that one character fit this category of a reluctant hero. Self-loathing, as you say, is definitely a sign of a character who might change slowly before our eyes. You can hate yourself just so long, maybe, and especially when an opportunity arises right in front of your eyes, then that's when the character might find a spark to move him forward.
    I go back to Clint Eastwood's character in Unforgiven..the man truly loathed himself. He knew how far he had fallen, but until a situation presented itself, he could do nothing. That was quite a story.
    Thanks for you comment.

  17. I think John Wayne's perfect hero was Hondo where he was doing his duty, trying to protect a family and a very good man. To me he also was in Rio Grande and the cavalry series. I sure loved him with a mustache :)

  18. I don't recall JW with a mustache...I'll have to find a photo of that! While looking at his photos on Google, I found several of him in a suit and tie, a modern photo. I think he was more handsome dressed that way. Very appealing.
    Thanks for visiting SOTW.


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