Keeping Heroes Heroic
When I was a wee little lass, scarcely old enough to be allowed to remain awake during napping time, far from understanding the complexities of writing—though my timeline is likely a little mixed up (few young children categorize: On this date, at three o’ clock in the afternoon, I decided I want to be a writer), I doubt I had any interest in writing stories at that point.
Ah, but I loved to read. This was a good thing, with all of the reading we young ones did for school in those days, and through studying certain old legends and myths, I found myself a hero. A brave man, strong, the very best of the king’s knights. I adored him, my hero, and through a few weeks of study, decided he must have been the best man in medieval history.
His name was Lancelot du Lac. And before you ask: no, I didn’t know.
The first time I wept at a book wasn’t a gentle sniffle or misty eyes. No, it was with tears streaming down my face, barely able to speak, tears clogging my voice as I gasped, “No, Lancelot, don’t, please.”
On that day, my first hero fell.
He did the thing with Guinevere that even I, a small lass though I was, knew was wrong. I desperately hoped that he’d turn back, that he’d make things right, but the hero that I had loved never did. Furthermore, Lancelot and Guinevere caused everything to fall to pieces. Wow. Well done, you two.
There is so much stress these days on giving your heroes (or heroines) flaws. It doesn’t matter who they are, where they come from, or what they do — as long as they make horrible decisions, mistakes, or are wretched people. While I’m all for having characters that are people (and therefore are fallible, have doubts sometimes, make mistakes, and may have flaws), there’s such an emphasis on making sure they aren’t perfect, that people seem to have forgotten what heroes are.
Heroes are the men and the women who step up and do what’s right, no matter how hard it is. They’re the folks who never give up the fight. Sure, they consider quitting. But eventually, they keep fighting for what is right and good, because that’s what hero does.
To quote The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything*, “The hero isn’t the smartest, strongest, or the best looking. The heroes are the ones who do what’s right.”
What you look for in a hero, which many people try and fake with flaws, is personality. Instead of throwing in random flaws or terrible habits, take the time to develop your characters into the type of person who is a hero. People look to fiction to find heroes (whether we ought to or not). Make your character the type who inspires your readers to do good.
Though, what matters in the end is not whether or not they were a perfect person during the book. They may have made mistakes at times — huge mistakes. But in the end, if they understand, if they want to make it right, if they’ve learned, and if they’ve turned themselves around, they are heroes.
Lancelot never got that. Perhaps, if Lancelot had turned himself around and did his best to make right what couldn’t really be made right, he would still be my favorite character, or at least the Arthurian Legends would still be my favorite of all the legends.
But this once good hero crashed, failed, and did not find redemption. And I never remember loving any other character as much as I loved him. I never cried over a book as much as I cried over him. I never again trusted a hero as much as I trusted him.
You may be laughing to yourself. Boy, does that sound overly dramatic. But it is true.
Make your heroes heroes. Make them love and live, and die, and make mistakes, but make them right. (Actually, the die part isn’t really necessary.)
As an afterthought: I may still be just a tad prickly about Lancelot. Beware what you comment.
*You may think you’re too old for The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything. You aren’t. It’s one of my favorite movies — and I am very picky about my movies.
Very true! Adding on to the great points you’ve just made, I recall someone said once, “The best heroes have flaws, but you can’t stop there. In order to be truly heroic, they have to rise above these flaws. They have do what’s right in spite of them.” …Or something to that effect. I wish I could remember where I heard/read that!
(Oh, and on the topic of Sir Lancelot, have you read The Squire’s Tales series? I think you’d like what they do with him. 🙂 )
Oh, that’s a good quote for stories, and for real life, too. :p
I believe i started it, but never read past the first book, though I don’t think there was any reason for that. I’ll see if my library has them. Thanks for the recommendation! 🙂
Once again you bring up good points- very true.
If I may give an example: Tale of Two Cities’ Sydney Carton. He was flawed, certainly. But what he did in the end was heroic (and made everyone cry).
Definitely. Sydney Carton was an awesome character. Lionheart, from the Tales of Goldstone Wood Series, was also a good example.
So true! I was so mad at Lancelot. 😛
For me, I like heroes who are flawed, but not ones that constantly sin.
The only close call I had with my favorite hero falling was Martin the Warrior. In Legend of Luke, he told a white lie and that bothered me, though he still got to keep hero status for me.
Good post! What I thought of about midway through was about Frodo and Sam. You know, when they’re talking about being heroes and stuff? Thanks for sharing!
I really like this post. These days everyone says “you have to have a flawed character, one who makes big mistakes,” etc. etc. But I find that there are rather too many flawed “heroes.” No, I do not mind flaws, yes, I do mind having a character that is doing wrong things purposefully without remorse. I’m not saying I want characters Elsie Dinsmore pristine, but I want a fundamentally good character. I don’t thing people understand that anymore.
Brilliant!! I think people forget who heroes are. They’re the ones “who could have turned back, only they didn’t. They kept going, because they were holding on to something.” 😉
And yes, I’ve never forgiven Lacelot, and I never will. Arthur is one of my heroes. 🙂
Oh wow. Everything you said! Yes. Yes yes yes! This is why I love role-models! You’re awesome! Thank you!
I’m not sure where Lancelot came from but the Lancelot/Guinevere thing was created by the French and was NOT in the original King Arthur stories. Lancelot may have been a good knight till the French came along and re-wrote the stories, or the French might have made him for that purpose, I don’t know. But I do know that plot was not around till the French told them.
(And yes I’m one of those bad people who doesn’t read blogs much and then goes back and reads old posts and comments anyway.)