Picking Your Hero

The right hero can make your story great. However, the wrong hero can weaken your story dramatically. This is how you pick the right hero.

Your goal defines your hero. Pick the goal of your story and that will determine the type of her you need to create. In “Rocky,” the goal is to take on the heavyweight champion of the world. What kind of hero can tackle that goal? The answer is a paradox. You need a hero who is logically capable of taking on this goal, but you also need a hero who is probably the worst possible person to tackle this goal.

In “Rocky,” there are plenty of up and coming fighters, younger, faster, and stronger than Rocky. Rocky, as we’ve already seen from the beginning of the movie, is an over the hill boxer with no future. Thus he makes the perfect hero for the goal because he needs to overcome so much more.

What if the hero were an up and coming young fighter? Then the goal would not have been as much of a struggle and thus the story would have been less satisfying. If we thought our hero had a good chance of achieving the goal from the start of the movie, there’s no tension or suspense.

What if we made the hero of “Rocky” a 90-year old grandfather confined to a wheelchair? That would certainly be much tougher to take on the heavyweight champion of the world, but it’s not logical or believable. As a result, you have to find the hero least likely to achieve your goal, but still capable of achieving that goal.

In “Star Wars,” Luke isn’t a commando, Top Gun pilot, or even a soldier. He’s just a farm boy, making him the least likely to achieve the goal of blowing up the Death Star. Yet, it’s still believable that he could do it.

In “Avatar,” the hero is a paralyzed Marine. The idea that he could fight and win is still believable because he’s a soldier, but his disability makes that achievement much harder.

When defining your hero, first look at the goal your hero must achieve. You need a hero who can believably achieve that goal, plus you need a hero leas likely to achieve that goal. This dual criteria can help you define the least likely hero possible, which makes your goal that much tougher and thus makes your story that much more satisfying when the hero eventually does reach that goal.

Identify what type of person could achieve your story’s goal and then create a believable, but weak hero to get it. Doing this can make your story stronger right from the start.

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