Thursday, February 19, 2009

Dimensions of the hero

Last week I spoke about the cultural hero, and what makes him and breaks him too in many cases.
This made think of another issue pertinent to heroes - the many dimensions involved in this word.

What am I getting at? Well, look at it this way.

What makes a hero?

In a mystery, he's the hero if he solves the puzzle.
In romance, he's the hero because he is a worthy man the heroine needs to fall in love with.
In fantasy, he's the leader, the one going for the quest.
In sci-fi, he is the commander.

All these men are heroes, but they are heroes in their own right.

Why? Because of the many dimensions of the hero.

We won't argue that there is a basic thing that makes a character a hero. He is inherently good, he gets the job done, he is worthy. Yes to all these.

But you cannot take this 'lumping' of characteristics, drop it in your ms and expect to have a hero.

This is where the archetypes play in (T.J's posts - archetypes, Creating a hero using archetypes, Back to basics: What breaks a hero) and where personalizing comes into play (Diana's post).

So now you've created a distinguishable hero for your ms. Good. Are you done yet? No.

A hero is 'different' for every genre. He 'looks like' something, 'acts' like something, 'thinks' like something depending on the genre of your story.

Let's take, for example, a mystery hero. A bloke you would've found in a Sidney Sheldon novel, for instance.

Looks - he can be gorgeous, average, non-descript. Every way he is, there is not much detail about his looks. You have a general idea but not a very clear picture. The hero here can be 'the kind of handsome man who has every woman sighing when he enters a room." We gather that he is handsome, but we don't know if he looks like Clive Owen, Daniel Craig, or Patrick Dempsey.

Behaviour - a mystery hero in a Sheldon book is often a man who isn't in the spotlight. He doesn't need to spotlight. He exists on a side fringe where you would probably not notice him without a second glance, and that too when you know what you're looking for.

Thinking - he is rational, logical, able to make deductions and has a terrific gut instinct. He needs all this to unravel the mystery.

Now, let's look at a romance hero.

Looks - he is usually handsome, and the more detail you give about his appearance, the better. Reading a romance, we know if he is tall or not so tall; dark or blond; square-jawed or not; well-shaved or sports a stubble; wears suits or jeans and a flannel shirt; whether his nose looks like Pierce Brosnan's nose or whether his voice resembles that of a crooner.
The reasoning here is - women need to fall in love with him. You cannot exactly fall in love with a man who could easily be mistaken with a hundred others in a crowd.

Behaviour - he is always honorable. He can be logical, rational, impulsive, headstrong, stubborn. He can do whatever he wants, as long as he can be redeemed/excused. He can be a show-off with a big heart, or he can be the loner who lives like a recluse. He is also a man who stands out of the crowd through his actions.

Thinking - he has the heroine's interest at heart. He wants to do right and do good. His motives are always pure. He can be a little warped (say he smokes like a chimney), but it's his heart that matters.

Am I saying that mystery heroes cannot make good romance heroes? No, and no for vice versa as well.

The point is, the same man has to be portrayed differently depending on the genre you are writing.

It's just like for an actor. The same actor can play 2 very different parts, but he will not be alike in the two movies. Think of John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever and John Travolta in Pulp Fiction. Same man, right? I'll leave it up to you to decide.

As always, I'd love to get your comments.

Aasiyah Qamar - Cultural romantic fiction, with a twist
With stories set amidst the rainbow nation of Mauritius, a multicultural island in the Southern Indian Ocean, author Aasiyah Qamar brings you tales of today's young women battling life on all fronts and finding love where they least expect it. Indo-Mauritian culture wants to stifle them in traditions, customs and antiquated morals while the world is opening its arms of modernity and globalisation. Where do these women belong? And more importantly, with whom?Find out more about her first release, The Other Side, here.


Sandy said...

I just never quiet thought of heroes like that. You're right depending on the genre is how much detail you give. Very interesting, Z.


Z(Aasiyah/Nolwynn) said...

Thanks Sandy. I'm glad it could provoke reflexion.



Chicki said...


You're so right. It's his heart that matters.

Right now I'm reading one by Suzanne Brockmann where the hero is a Navy Seal (an honorable profession), but he's so messed up emotionally from childhood abuse. He is such a fascinating character.

Good post!

Z(Aasiyah/Nolwynn) said...

Thanks Chicki.

The dimension of the hero revolves around one aspect - his inherent goodness.