First off, Happy October! My favorite month of the year! Second, I want to talk about hero creation. I’ve already gone over character sheets, but this is more of a workshop done in a similar style to my world building series. No, it’s not a 300 question long interview with your hero. Your hero doesn’t always have to be the main character either, but let’s face it that’s usually the case. The following are in depth questions to answer to make your hero more three dimensional.
Before heading into any other aspect of building your hero, think of how you want them perceived. By the reader as well as the world around them. Is it pivotal your character is popular? Do you want the reader to be suspicious of them? Untrustworthy narrators in a first person perspective can be exciting when well done. Does the mistrust of all those around your hero make their journey all the more difficult? Why do people, and the readers, perceive your character in this way?
Bubbly? Grumpy? Cheery? No, I’m not naming off all the Care Bears, but personality types. Very simplified personality types. While some of us have a sort of default personality (optimistic, shy, etc) real people don’t fit into the simple mold of a certain type of personality. We’re multi-faceted beings. Though a cheerful person is usually full of sunshine and lollipops, it doesn’t mean they don’t have their cloudy days. Think of your hero’s lot in life. The environment in which they live can sometimes affect their attitude in how they approach things. Does this mean someone who has it hard is always downtrodden? No. Not at all. It’s just something to consider. Think long and hard about your character’s personality, including the bits they may repress because it’s socially unacceptable. Such as, depression, anxiety, etc. Your hero’s personality can affect most of their life. Their approach to and idea of success, their friendships, motivations, and more.
Is your hero short? Tall? In shape? Overweight? Don’t have your hero attractive just for the sake of well, attraction. If your hero has a six pack, why? Do they have a rigorous workout routine? The average person doesn’t possess such attributes naturally. I certainly don’t have a six pack. If your hero has amazing flexibility, why? Anything that is out of the ordinary, there’s usually an outlying cause for. Otherwise, why not make her average? Then your hero is more relatable to the reader.
As briefly touched on above, what are your hero’s strengths? Of course it doesn’t have to be physical. And a strength for some can be seen as a weakness by others. Imagine Eeyore against the Nothing from The Neverending Story. It wouldn’t affect him. He’d ride on in. In the Swamps of Sadness? He’d march on through. He’s got this. Given the situation, your hero’s strength doesn’t have to be something cliche such as super intelligence or strong muscles. Even tenacity. Perhaps they’re gullible and easy to trust. Some view that as a weakness, others a strength. In the right situation anything can be used as a strength. They accept help from any who offer it, and in turn that help saves the day. Kung Fu Panda is a perfect example of this. What was seen as Po’s weakness by everyone else, turned out to be his strength. It doesn’t have to be typical.
Flaws and strengths can be interchangeable, as always, given the situation. Please, please, please don’t make another hero who’s clumsy. There is a theme going around for heroes to be a klutz. Being clumsy isn’t just cute falls and bruises. As a real life klutz, I have giant scars, mended broken bones, dropped expensive phones, and lots of fun medical bills. Being clumsy as a fault is overdone and cliche. When I begin reading and the hero mentions being clumsy I’m immediately put off. Have other flaws, please. A flaw can be the result of your hero’s strengths. Is your hero attractive? Make them vain or quick to judge based on appearances. Are they addicted to something? Do they not value themselves and their insecurities cause problems in relationships and accomplishments? A flaw isn’t necessarily what we think of as a flaw, but rather as an obstacle for the hero to overcome in your story. It’s also more realistic for your hero to have several flaws as do we all.
To be honest, when I think of morality I think of D&D’s style of alignment. It’s a good scale to work with as you have nine options. Within each of these can be complications and history. I’ve been playing D&D since I was 14, and so I naturally think of a character’s moral compass in these terms. And just as in D&D, a character’s alignment can change over time due to circumstances and events. Knowing your character’s alignment can help drive their reactions throughout your story.
History is more than lineage and where your hero was born. What’s their education? How were they raised? Social status? Love life? What did their parents teach them about how to handle tough situations? If they didn’t have parents, who guided them through tough decisions growing up? Where did they grow up? Were they happy and healthy? Always on edge? If they have a particular set of skills or a physical anomaly how did it happen? How did/does it affect their life now?
Obvious but still something to consider in depth. How many Freudian episodes of sitcoms and dramas have there been when the main character’s hang ups center around their family? There’s a reason for that. Whether close or estranged, family affects us all. If it’s a lack of it or too much of it. Or just enough. Family is heavy in our culture with countless movies and books centered around the concept and importance of family. Family can include non-biological members of course.
Don’t just think of who your hero’s friends are, but how the friendship formed in the first place. It doesn’t have to be an epic story or adventure, but something as simple as they both liked the same soup at a festival. Also, what kind of friendship do they have? Is it mutual give and take? Does one use the other? Not all friendships are healthy.
Traveling companions aren’t always friends. Quite often you have an opposites buddy cop movie or two people on the same side working against each other until the end when they take out the bad guy. Of course your hero may have many friends and family and they thrive when in the company of others. So send them alone. A companion can also be an animal, an insect (Mulan), or a spirit guide in the background. Companions aren’t just there to prop up your hero. They’re there to help each other along. Don’t just have your companions assist your hero, but your hero should assist their companions.
If you have a world you have politics. Politics make for a great circumstance to begin a story. Even if they don’t, they can still affect how your hero acts and feels. Just because people are on opposite sides of a political issue, it doesn’t mean one is wrong or one is evil. It just means they disagree. However, this doesn’t keep people from villainizing those on the opposite end of their political spectrum. Although, in some cases, yes the opposition is just evil.
The main drive for why your hero embarks on their journey. Why your hero risks life and limb to save the day. All of the points above can influence motivation. Think long and hard about this. It needs to be real and believable. Something so powerful they may die trying to reach their goal. Or something so powerful they’re willing to sacrifice the lives of others to achieve the impossible. In the end this is the single most important piece in your hero’s puzzle. Why does she do what she does?
To round up our hero’s three dimensional build think of the worst and best day of their life leading up to the beginning of your story. Can they narrow it down to one to begin with? Think of your own life. What’s the worst day? What’s the best? Why? Did they affect any decisions in your own life? An important day can decide whether your hero runs towards or away from something. Take time to consider and write down these days. Whether it be the very worst or one of the very worst days of their life. Write a short story from a first person perspective of the day to fully embody your character’s emotion. No one else has to read or see it. It’s for you to use as reference.
Until Next Time…
If you Google, they will come. But seriously, you can find a few dozen character building interviews and sheets up the wazoo. Those can be fun. Really fun. But answering all of those questions can be meaningless unless you know the reason behind them. Cool, their favorite color is red. But why? Ask yourself why as much as you can. Then answer it. It’s true there can be times when it’s, “Just because.” But remember, just because falls short. Just because isn’t satisfying. If it’s important enough to mention to your readers, it’s important enough to put thought into. Important enough to answer the question, why?