Tuesday, March 6, 2012

10 Things Every Literary Hero Needs


My first draft of Odessa, then called Dragons in the Dark, could have given a garbage dump a run for the money in stink. I was so happy and proud to have the entire 600 word story finally written and out of my head. As you know, if you’ve read any of my interviews, the entire story has resided in my head for over thirty years awaiting the right moment and amount of time to pop out. When it finally did and I read it through the manuscript was obviously full of errors, bad writing and a fatal flaw. I had no distinctive main character—no hero or heroine.

Because the story is about a group of seven teens, I assumed they could all tell the story. But it didn’t work that way. I had to decide which of them would tell the story to the reader and be the hero of the book series. Once I knew that, I revised the story about eight times, writing it from Myrna’s point of view, until I got it right. The funny thing is I have a strong driving need to revise it again. I’m guessing that’s a common feeling for authors. And one day I might do it, who knows.
But I digress. My point is this: There are certain aspects of a hero/heroine an author must provide for the story to work.

1-Your protagonist must be interesting. There should be some quirk, personality trait, etc that makes your hero special. Why would a reader care about her and what happens to her? This was my first big area of improvement and why I need to revise Odessa—Myrna isn’t likable enough and she’s too white bread.
2-While the reader doesn’t need to feel sympathetic for your protag (as in the case of a detestable character-murderer, rapist, etc), they should be able to feel some empathy for them. Maybe a horrific childhood that created their current character.
3-Protags should act bravely.
4-As the ‘god’ creating your characters, it is imperative the author knows every aspect of each main character in the story. They should exist in the author’s head as surely as any living person. There are many character creation templates to help with this. I’ll post my own in my next posting.
5-Conflict, conflict, conflict. Your story must have a general overriding conflict, but so should each of the characters—especially your protag. If your hero has no inner conflict or problems to overcome, what makes them interesting enough to hold a reader’s attention?
6-In addition to or in conjunction with a conflict, your hero should have a weakness. They may not realize it at first, but sometime during the story it should come to light and they must work on improving that weakness while accomplishing their tasks.
7-All characters in a story, but especially your protagonist, must change and grow throughout the story. If you are writing a series, each book should have a character arc of growth which is different from that of the series.
8-Your hero must have a reason for doing whatever they are doing in your story. The protag’s younger sister was kidnapped; her parents were killed and the murderer is after her; she is trying to get someone specific to fall in love with her. Whatever the reason, without a purpose for the protag’s actions/journey, you have no story.
9-Make sure your hero is believable. No one is completely good or absolutely bad. Even angels and demons can have slight issues causing them to question their behavior. This is what has made the Romantic Vampire so attractive.
10-The war and final battle between the protagonist and antagonist should be satisfying and believable. Even in a Sci Fi story set in a far-away universe, the conclusion to this battle can be believable to the reader if the author understands human nature and sticks to the rules of world building they’ve created. If the story is historical, make sure you stick to the actual history of the event.
These are just some of the things I’ve learned over the past couple of years and have tried incorporating into my writing. And from personal experience as a reader I can conclude with this final nugget. If you have an awesome main character(s) your story doesn’t even have to be awesome because the character will carry it—but if you can have BOTH, you’ll have a best-seller.




Laman and Harpies are currently in edits and should be available soon.



Rebecca Ryals Russell is a MG/YA Fantasy Author of two series: Seraphym Wars Series for YA and Stardust Warriors Series for MG readers. There are currently three books of each series available via eBook wherever eBooks are sold, with several more currently in edits and others in the works. Follow Rebecca’s progress at Under the Hat of Rebecca Ryals Russellor Tween Word Quest.

8 comments:

  1. Rebecca, thanks for the interesting post. I'm working on a sci fi novel now that is in perhaps its fifth major revision. I had a hard time deciding which would be the main plot and which the subplot, and therefore who would be the main character, and who would be the POV characters in the story. Your checklist explains some of the reason my initial choice for a main character failed to work.

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  2. Thanks for all the great tips, Rebecca!

    I love when an MC has flaws yet is loyal and brave when the time requires it.

    Writing the Breakout Novel, by Donald Maas, has some great advice on how to develop great characters.

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    1. Thank you, Rebecca, for your battle-hardened and time-tested tips on the hero. This is so helpful to me and my novel "Mental Immigrant".

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  3. Amen to all your tips! All great things to keep in mind while writing and again while revising.

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  4. Excellent suggestions Rebecca. I particularly like you point that all characters in the story must change and grow and that the character arc has to be different for each book in the series.

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  5. Great tips. The heart of the story is in our revisions.

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  6. Great pointers, Rebecca. In fact, each point you mention is important.

    I'm working on a writing ecourse right now and reading a lot of books on 'writing.' And, interestingly, when looking through my grandkids books I found a Disney book, What Makes a Hero. Each page has one specific trait. For example: "A hero knows that no challenge is too big . . ." and ". . . but sometimes even a hero needs a helping hand."

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  7. I'm bookmarking this one for further reflection, Rebecca, and will use it as a revision checklist for this book and guideline for the next. Thanks for the concise summary.

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