So this is what it’s come to: drinking airplane-size aperitifs while sitting alone in a hotel room. While I’m being a road warrior for my day job (the reason for the hotel room and the drinking alone), I promised I’d keep my story brain engaged.
One of the ways I’m doing that is by keeping a journal of observations that one day – one very wonderful day in the not-too-distant future – I’ll use in my writing. This past week, I spent a lot of time people watching, thinking about people’s words and actions and how those can tie into archetypes for characters. One character type that got the wheels in my writer’s brain spinning was the eternal hero.
I don’t mean hero in the romantic lead sense of the word, nor am I referring to a story protagonist. This type of person needs to be a real-life hero, needs to save the day, needs to be indispensable in every situation. Like the characters in our stories, protagonists and antagonists alike, we all like to be the heroes of our own stories. But I’m talking about a hero complex that runs deeper than that, a need that runs so deep, it becomes a superhero complex.
So what might motivate this self-appointed savior? His motives could be noble. Perhaps he’s a nurturer, and when put in charge of the care and feeding of another, he wholly devotes himself to the task. He might be the ultimate protector, and he might be damn good at it. He might actually be the on who saves the day. That’s the upside to this character archetype.
But when it comes to writing well fleshed-out characters, it’s important to consider the downsids to our characters’ defining traits as well. By always inserting himself into difficult situations and claiming responsibility for solving every problem, our superhero can quickly become a choke point, a single point of failure. When that happens, all the balls he’s been trying to keep in the air could come crashing to the ground. When everyone is counting on him for everything, failure on his part could mean everything falls apart.
Taking it one step further, maybe the character with a superhero complex has such a need to save the day, he intentionally sabotages situations just so he can pull things back from the brink of disaster. Perhaps he has a more nefarious plan to make everyone so used to his day-saving skills, they come to depend upon him, only to have him let them down at a critical point of the story in a way that benefits him. Suddenly, our superhero can become a supervillain.
I already have some ideas about how and in what story I might use this character with a superhero complex. I won’t for sure until I actually translate these observations into words on the story page, but I hope they’ll help me add depth and a real-world feel to the fantasy world that, for a least a few more months, will only exist in my head. What have you observed in the real world recently that you plan to use in your fiction world?