I’ve been reading Julie Ann Long’s Pennyroyal Green series on the advice of Jilly, and they’re terrific books, even reading them out of order, which is what I’m doing. Currently I’m on The Legend of Lyon Redmond, which is the last book in the series. I had to put it down recently when the heroine and hero got into an argument, because their pain and anger made me too sad and upset to go on.
I wish I could write emotion like that. My critique partner has a completely justified and yet irritating habit of noting “more emotion!” at the end of way too many paragraphs, and I’ve been trying to improve my execution in this area. I’m working on my hero, an alpha male (of course) who wants to get the heroine more involved in his life, which she’s resisting. I’ve been trying to figure out not just what he feels but what he does—and how his actions reflect his feelings—to get what he wants. Basically, I want to write someone who’s bigger than life, the way Lyon Redmond is.
Charlie Jane Anders has described the 10 essential elements of a great escapist hero. These qualities apply more to action heroes, but I’m looking to this advice to see if I can make it work for my own guy.
1) He’s unique in some way
Some quality or skill makes him stand out. He doesn’t need super powers—he doesn’t have to be Spiderman or The Incredible Hulk. He just needs something extra.
2) He has beliefs, which get tested
A real hero believes in something. Readers respect someone who fights for those beliefs. Without principles, your heroine is just another random combatant.
3) He has a line he won’t cross
Whatever it is, seeing what the hero won’t do is just as important as seeing what he can do. He won’t take the easy way out. Even seeing the hero almost cross a line is interesting.
4) He has a goal or mission
A hero without a goal is, by definition, reactive. The hero’s goal must be positive and concrete, not something vague like “get girlfriend.”
5) He’s loyal
An anti-hero might double-cross his friends, but a real hero won’t. Readers admire someone who is loyal, and they want to fantasize that if this hero existed, he’d be loyal to you.
6) He’s an underdog, or outgunned
To make your readers root for your hero, have him face impossible odds. Think the Mission: Impossible and 24 franchises or the Vorkosigan family.
7) He’s compassionate
Heroes save lives, especially the lives of ordinary people, and caring about vulnerable folks is part of what makes him a hero. Seeing that compassion helps readers invest in the character.
8) He has fun
If your hero doesn’t have fun kicking ass and taking prisoners, it’s hard for readers to enjoy his exploits vicariously. And it feels natural that he celebrates that.
9) He’s got cool gear or abilities
A great escapist hero embodies our fantasy of doing great things or having great stuff. James Bond is the epitome of a hero with great gear (my guy has neat cars).
10) He hangs with a fascinating sidekick or posse
A hero without interesting backup is less memorable. Think Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Those fun sidekicks rely on Buffy’s strength, and in turn, they challenge Buffy and make her deeper and more interesting.
My hero isn’t an action hero like Spiderman or James Bond, but he faces big and dangerous challenges—not the least of which is getting the heroine to see things his way. I’m working on it. How about you?