What Makes a Compelling Hero?
Giving your hero power is one of the most important things you can do when you are crafting a protagonist. What makes a compelling hero? That question isn’t as hard to answer as you might think:
Giving your hero power (not in the supernatural sense) gets the job done.
How do You Give Your Hero Power?
First, as a writer, you need to make sure the reader identifies with your hero. There are several tried and true ways to do this. As a writer, you must:
- Make the hero likable, admirable, or just understood.
- Create sympathy or empathy for the hero. That means making them ordinary people with ordinary problems and traits that the everyday person can relate to. This also allows them the opportunity for growth.
- Put the hero in danger. This means raising the stakes for him or her.
- Give them flaws or character warts. Make these similar to the flaws people have in real life. Some examples may be sexual in nature, social issues, awkwardness, interest in social issues, self-esteem issues, etc. Nobody is perfect, least of all your hero.’
Next, make your hero have power!
Power can manifest in many ways. Giving your hero power and/or helping them grow into their power is one way to ensure character growth. It also will ultimately help you create a hero that is larger than life.
That Doesn’t Mean Supernatural Power (Although it Can)
Again, I’m not talking supernatural power here, although that is certainly possible. I have several book series which have magical elements. In one series (the Harlow Cassidy Magical Dressmaking mysteries), my heroine, Harlow Cassidy, is a descendant of Butch Cassidy based on my alternate history. She—along with all Butch’s female descendants–have magical charms. Nana is a goat-whisperer. Mama has a magical green thumb. And Harlow can sew wishes and dreams into a custom garment.
In another series—my Pippin Lane Hawthorne Book Magic series, all the members of Pippin’s family have been cursed by an ancient Irish deity.
Even With Supernatural Powers, the Normal “Power” is Just as Important
Obviously, these are supernatural powers…yet these characters also have or develop other ‘normal’ powers which facilitate character growth. Pippin learns to trust herself (power over herself). She also develops the power to transform her understanding of her gift of bibliomancy.
Harlow has her magical charms, but she also has the power to sleuth and ferret out the truth (as does Pippin). She has power over her great-grandmother, Loretta Mae, who exists now in only a ghostly form. And she has power over her sewing skills and hones them throughout the series. She has the power to figure out how to make her business work.
The idea of power can be vague or abstract instead of literal.
What kind of power does your protagonist have:
- over people?
- over letting others know their feelings by words or actions>
- over their own actions?
- over others’ actions?
- over their own talents and/or skills?
The following Hero List comes from Prescription for Plotting, by Carolyn Greene. Use it as a jumping-off point to help identify the types of power these archetypal people might have.
- Alpha hero
- Wild man (Tarzan)
- Outlaw/bad boy/rebel
- Wrong side of the tracks
- Confirmed bachelor
- Private Investigator
- Secret Agent
- House husband
- Soldier of fortune
- Sports hero
- Boy next door (Beta Hero)
Here is an activity to help you hone in on real people and their ‘powers’. Make a list of some people in your life—men and women. What do they do? What is/was their role in your life? What has been their impact on you? Can you identify any ways in which they have power?
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