Heroes

Jeremy Wembley grabbed the broom by the handle. He took forceful steps toward the back of the room where Patrick stood unaware. Patrick paid no notice as Jeremy shortened the distance between them, and seemed completely oblivious to Jeremy’s presence.

Jeremy raised the broom just as Patrick turned around.

“I’ll sweep the stockroom now, Mr. Brenner,” he said.

Jeremy knew that if he continued to impress his boss, it would not be long before he could get that promotion—and soon after, get the real reward he desired: night manager of the Fredricksburg 7-11 on West Norton Avenue.

Unless his arch-nemesis, that kiss-up Eric Stoher got there first…

All the elements are there. There is a goal the main character wishes to reach, and an obstacle that can prevent him. There is character development and conflict.

But, you know, who gives a flying you-know-what?

The fact of the matter is that we want to read stories about people and events that are larger than life. We want to read about heroes to do great things, make clever comments, overcome great odds.

This is nothing new. The ancient Greeks didn’t do plays about the guy who cleaned the stables.

And I am no exception. My books have been about wars and world-shaping events and the heroes whose presence made a difference.

However, at the same time, I have consciously avoided the standard hero that is a mainstay of much of fiction (and especially fantasy). You know the type – the Chosen One from Prophecy who is the seventh son of the seventh son who is the only one who can wield the magic sword Noonah because he has surplus midichlorians and blah blah blah. Maybe this hero starts off the book as a nobody, but he or she ends up as the World’s Greatest Swordsman or Most Powerful Wizard by the end and thus, being superior to us lowly humans, saves the day.

In my two published novels (ARCH ENEMIES and THE AXES OF EVIL) and in a short story in the just released anthology TALES OF FORTANNIS: A BARD’S EYE VIEW, my main character is a teenager named Terin. His problem is that, thanks to a mistake, everyone thinks he’s the Chosen One Who Can Save The Day.

By the end of ARCH ENEMIES, Terin is still running when a fight breaks out and still can barely cast a minor spell. So what makes him the hero?

To me, what makes a real hero is someone who doesn’t have all those skills and yet, through bravery and intelligence, rises above what is expected and does the extraordinary. Terin is the hero because he figures out a solution – he finds a way to solve the problem that is more than merely “hitting the bad guy with the weapon until he falls down.”

I like these kinds of heroes because they remind us that we all can be heroes sometimes.

Oh, I don’t mean to knock down the more traditional heroes: I love Batman and Luke Skywalker as much as the next fan. But when I create a hero for my stories, they tend to be average people put into extraordinary circumstances who must then find something special within themselves to make things right.

In the sequel THE AXES OF EVIL, people are now thoroughly convinced that Terin has wondrous powers, even though he doesn’t. Now he’s confronted with a trio of barbarian prophecies which, he later discovers, contradict each other. On top of this, his liege wants him to get all the barbarians off his land, and a bunch of silly goblins think Terin’s the one who will lead them to victory over the evil humans who oppress them.

These are problems that cannot be resolved by being the biggest fighter. Terin solves them all by the end of the book through his cleverness and resourcefulness, and by being brave and willing to risk it all.

That, to me, is very admirable. It’s what I admire about my real life heroes (Benjamin Franklin and Martin Luther King, to name two). And it’s the kind of hero I like writing about, because I can identify with him and understand his fears and worries.

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5 Responses

  1. Mr. Ventrella,

    I get where you’re coming from. My protagonist is starting off with some special powers, gains strength and prowess steadily, then loses half again and has to learn ways of coping besides special abilities, such as inner scared to death, but showing outer courage. Initially she had more powers, but a friend told me, quite frankly, that nothing annoyed her more than when a character gains ultimate power with ultimate alacrity. I agreed and took my protagonist down a huge notch, and she’s better for it, as is the story.

    Thanks for the spot-on advice for character building!
    C.K.Garner

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  2. Michael –

    Excellent post! I couldn’t agree with you more. I tend to find the character who’s not The Chosen One, but who is still capable of larger-than-life actions, to be the most interesting sort of hero.

    -Brian O

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  3. Okay Mike, now you have the devil’s advocate in me interested in writing a story with a character so compromised that winning that coveted convenience store management pot WOULD seem heroic…

    Does Terin ever wonder if he might be the chosen one, before the mistake is made known? I’d like that. I mean, was Jesus even sure of it?

    I think there’s a lot you can do with a chosen one story line, but if all goes according to plan, you’ve broken the fiction code (telling everyone what will happen through the prophecy, and then watching that very thing happen–and then, of course, re-hashing it afterward to make sure everyone’s on board). I’m in your camp in that you must find an interesting way to come at it.

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    • Well, of course, I’m using generalities here. In writing, there really are no rules. If it works, it works!

      Terin certainly has all sorts of concerns about the “chosen one” he is supposed to be. One of the main problems in ARCH ENEMIES is that they don’t tell him exactly what it is he is supposed to do to fulfill the prophecy. He assumes it must be something other than fight since it’s him, but he is not sure. Mostly he’s worried that when the time comes, he’ll do the wrong thing. (If it were easy and predictable, as you point out, the story would hold no suspense.)

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