Grace's Mosaic Moments

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Creating a Hero

One of the amazing desserts at Cinco's "soft opening" in Winter Park
Mike, my son-in-law, and his cousin Lionel have been involved in creating the space for Cinco's, a new Mexican restaurant in Winter Park. Here are photos from its first night of "trying out" its kitchen by hosting The Citrus Singers, families & friends.

Sample of the delicious food

Our Lionel painted this spectacular mural.

Mugging it up again - at Cinco's
(They did not have to sing for their suppers.)

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Grace Note:  I'm sure there are hundreds, if not thousands, of books about creating imagination-catching heroes and heroines. But as with all my blogs, I draw on what I personally have learned through a quarter century of writing fiction. Hopefully, as I begin a new series on my favorite topic, Characterization, you will find something helpful.


As mentioned previously in Mosaic Moments, the first thing you need to do when writing fiction is: Choose a genre. After that, some would say: Outline the plot. To me, beyond a vague concept of where the book is going, the next step is always: Create the Characters. I don't create characters to fit my plot, but a plot to fit my characters. I've spent a considerable amount of time talking about the importance of names, but even before naming your characters comes the type of person you want them to be. (And the choices are nearly endless.) Today I'm going to confine myself to Creating a Hero.

No matter what fiction genre you write, creating the primary dominant male character is always a challenge. (Even if you're writing Lesbian romance, there's usually one of the pair with more dominant characteristics than the other.) Female readers may prefer smart, independent heroines these days, but they absolutely adore their heroes—often men who, oddly enough, embody all those old virtues of able-bodied, protective, dashing, take-charge, etc., etc. Which, of course, frequently includes: dominating, arrogant, overbearing, bossy, thoughtless, insensitive . . .  

Hmm. Guess we should to broaden the concept of the Alpha hero. Sometimes I think,as I watch the Avengers, Vikings, sports stars, politicians, and other flamboyant types: "You'd be a Wow for an hour or so, but I doubt I'd like to live with you full time." Which leaves all kinds of room for other men, both real and those straight out of an over-the-top imagination.

Many readers insist on being able to see into the hero's head; i.e., a good deal of the story written in his Point of View. And so do I. BUT I also enjoy the challenge presented by the Gothic novels I write. By definition, most books of this genre are first person, female, forcing the hero's thoughts and actions to remain vague and leaving enough leeway so both heroine and readers can wonder if he might turn out to be a villain instead of a hero. Believe me, it's not easy to create a hero whose thoughts are barred to us. A man who can be seen only through the eyes of the heroine. A "hero" who might be a good guy or a bad guy.  A lover or a killer. A man whose Goals, Motivations, and Conflicts remain murky right up until the final chapter or two. Fortunately, my readers must appreciate the difficulty of the problem as my Regency Gothics remain my best-sellers.

So keep in mind that it is possible to create a hero who is not allowed a POV of his own.

Here are some of the choices we, as authors, have.

Alpha Heroes 

1.  Action hero (Thor, Captain Kirk, all those characters played by Van Diesel) 
2.  Questionable hero (as in the Gothic novels mentioned above)
3.  The Rogue or Wild Cannon (you're never sure what he's going to do next)
4.  Military Macho (reliable but inflexible, by the book)
5.  Mr. Real (reliable, hard-working, family-oriented, protective, but maybe not so exciting as an Action Hero)
6.  Mr. Ordinary (all the characteristics of #3, but being a hero doesn't come easy - he's on the brink of being a "Beta" hero)
7.  Determinedly Single (respects women)
8.  Determinedly Single (carefree roamer, harder to transform into a hero)
9.  Determinedly Single (discounts females except for his basic needs - more likely to be a secondary character or a villain - not a popular hero type in this day & age)

I'm sure there are a thousand variations of the above, but hopefully that's enough to point out just how varied a so-called "Alpha" hero can be.

Beta Heroes

And then there are the so-called Beta Heroes, the men who don't fit comfortably into any of the above. (#6 comes closest.) These are the men who seldom, if ever, display dominant traits. They can be dour, charming, or just plain ordinary. They go to work, do their jobs, they don't make waves. (They're the quiet "prep" cook, not the egotistical Chef.) They're respectful of women, possibly shy of women; they're not the males most women are panting for. (Demonstrating that women can be as obtuse about men as men are about women.) They're the kid who doesn't raise his hand in class, who trudges, not struts, onto stage at graduation. They may not be the Movers & Shakers, but they're the men who make the world go round. 

The best illustration I've read of a Beta hero is a character created by Gail Carriger. Biffy designs and sells hats. He is charmingly, openly gay, and is a devotee of an aging vampire, expecting to be taken in as a full member of the vampire hive at some future date. And yet . . . instead of becoming a vampire, Biffy ends up as the Alpha of a pack of powerful werewolves. (But he still has his hat shop!) And as the series unfolds, Ms Carriger writes as touching a love story as can be found between Biffy and the Beta of his pack. 

Single Title Heroes vs. Series Heroes:
Let's face it, Single Title Heroes get the girl (or boy) in the end. Most series heroes do not. With the exception of a few series like Robert Parker's Spencer mysteries, the romance remains nebulous, following a rocky road that never quite gets there. But then the primary concept of a fixed hero in a series usually means Mystery or Adventure, with Romance only as a sub-plot. Certainly, the author of a series gets far more opportunity to develop his central character over a long series of books than does the single-title author. Which can be gratifying - or a pain in a neck. I would imagine it becomes very difficult to find any new quirks to spark the portrayal of a hero's character when you're on Book 20! Maybe that's why many series add new love interests here and there!

"Single Title" Heroes in a Series:

Some series have a central theme, but the main romantic couple changes with each novel This is easier on the author (not having to keep one central character interesting through multiple plots), and it is also more fun, as you can juggle different types of heroes within the setting of one series. For example, in my Sci Fi Adventure series, Blue Moon Rising . . .

Varied Heroes from my Blue Moon Rising series:

Rebel Princess: Tal Rigel is your classic action hero - bold, brave & smart. Women sigh over him, but he's so fixed on the rebellion he started, it's a wonder any female can penetrate his armor.

Sorcerer's Bride: Jagan Mondragon may be tall, dark & handsome, but he's also sarcastic, insensitive, and reluctant to stick his neck out far enough to become a hero.(Though, of course, in the end he manages it.)

The Bastard Prince:  K'kadi Amund is slight of build, with a face more fey than human. He cannot talk. When we first see him in Rebel Princess, he does not quite live in this world. You could call him the epitome of a Beta hero, but his love life has a surprisingly Alpha ending.

Royal Rebellion: The Alpha of his pack, T'kal Killiri is a werewolf. On a pacifist planet, he is the man everyone turns to when violence is needed. Quiet, self-effacing, but inwardly the toughest hero in the series.

What you need to remember: Heroes come in all sizes and personalities, some realistic, some we can only accept with "suspended disbelief." A hero must have enough good qualities so readers like him, but he must also have vulnerabilities. (Even Superman has krytonite!) The vulnerabilities make him more human, more appealing, touching a reader's heart. And yes, he can have faults. Readers enjoy nudging him along, jeering or groaning when he fails, or cheering him as he finally becomes the person we want him to be. 

The hero of your book is limited only by your imagination. (As I have pointed out before, Lori Sjoberg made a hero of the Grim Reaper.) No matter what you choose—Alpha, Beta, LGBTQ or who-knows-what—if you make your hero likable (kind to children & small animals, etc., etc.), you can get away with a remarkable number of eccentricities—some will make him more appealing (or intriguing); others, he is going to have to moderate by the final chapter. 

Keep in mind that quirks, faults, and character flaws are better understood by readers if some explanation is given, at least a hint of the backstory that made him the way he is. And it's always a good idea to offer enough information so readers see how he acquired his good qualities as well. In other words, give us a hero who is not simply plunked, fully formed, into your book—"there he is, take it or leave it." To me that smacks of "Blah": no Past, no Present, no possibility of a satisfying Future. And, oh yes, try to find a way for your hero to explain what he sees in the heroine. Readers' love of the "strong, silent type" only goes so far.

Whatever your Hero's personality, he needs good qualities, quirks and/or faults, and vulnerabilities (ways he can be hurt; i.e., an Achilles' heel, kryptonite, etc.), before he can win through, get the girl, solve a mystery, polish off the bad guys, or accomplish whatever task you've set for him.

So there he is: your hero in a nutshell: classic, over-the-top, or shy and retiring, it's up to you to make him someone your readers will love and root for.

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For a link to Blair Bancroft's web site, click here.

Thanks for stopping by,


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