By Anna Kathryn Lanier
This is not so much 'Western' in subject, but I think all readers enjoy the book so much better when the writer has given them a good hero. So, here is a list of what makes a good hero. What qualities do you most like in a hero?
Building a Hero
James Frey in THE KEY 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 would 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)
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.
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 is a multi-published short story and novella writer in both contemporary and historical Westerns.
Anna Kathryn Lanier