Create a Worthy Hero for Your Book
Whether you’re writing a memoir or a novel, you’ll need to create a worthy hero, a character your readers will want to read about. With a memoir, you’ll have the honor of taking on this role. With a fictional piece, you the author will need to mold him or her from scratch using only your imagination. Do it well and correctly and this will be a main character your readers will root for throughout the novel.
The flaw in the perfection
When you think of a hero, Superman might come to mind. This man had very few problems and on real character flaws (except that he was too perfect). Add to that, he was drop dead handsome to boot. Although we love stories about superheroes, they aren’t exactly relatable to us mere mortals. After all, humans have issues, some problem that can make us cringe when we consider them. The heroes of popular novels and memoirs aren’t Superman. They aren’t even close.
If you think about the books and movies that you’ve absorbed over the last few years, you’ll discover that the main character is usually riddled with problems. At least in the beginning when the story starts.
In Nomadland, the main character Fern is forced from her home and hometown. Her solution is to live in a van and travel as a nomad. Most of the people in her life disagree with this decision and try to “help” her with other solutions, but she is determined. She is in poverty and must work at menial jobs to make ends meet. We often see her in her van eating meager meals, and we wonder if she will truly survive to the end of the story.
Fern isn’t a superhero. However, you like her and can relate to her. And you root for her to make it.
In contrast, Harry Potter might be classified as a superhero. I mean he takes on the worst villain in the series head on multiple times. However, unlike Superman, Harry has flaws. In the beginning he doesn’t seem to understand his worth and rarely stands up for himself. He often resembles a human punching bag. Then as he learns how to be a wizard, he has his ups and downs, mostly self-created. He sneaks around a lot putting himself and his friends in danger. He’s also quite moody (with good reason) and isn’t always kind.
There are many examples of imperfect heroes who start their adventures with many flaws. These are just two that I’ve recently come across. Both protagonists are very different, of course, but they are both likeable and popular characters, because they aren’t perfect people leading boring lives.
An imperfect life
Introducing a flawed character to the reader, you’ll notice that the good authors won’t typically jump to solve their protagonists’ problems. No, things tend to go in the opposite direction. This can be difficult if you like the fictional people you’ve created. It can seem mean to put them into unpleasant situations where you know they will wallow around a bit, making a mess of their lives. However, it is necessary to put your heroes through the wringer for good storytelling. They need a healthy dose of conflict.
Anne Shirley in Anne of Green Gables would be the first to tell you that she is far too stubborn for her own good. She spends most of the novel getting into a lot of trouble, dragging her friends along for the ride. What would be the fun if she were always perfectly behaved and never stepped out of line? It would be a boring read. She is who she is, and we love her for it. Flaws and all.
In another example, Emma, the heroine of Emma, spends a lot of time avoiding her own life and chooses instead to meddle in her friend’s love life. The messes she makes escalate to a fevered pitch as the novel progresses, causing chaos for all around her. It could be argued that Emma is a sweet girl with good intentions, but her actions are harmful to her friends and quite flawed.
Now, if I’m being completely honest, when I began writing I was hesitant to put my protagonists into harm’s way. I wanted to help them quickly and minimize the damage they caused. Looking back, I suppose I felt a bit like their mother, wanting to save them from agony and misery at all costs. Through experience I learned that conflict is key, and if I truly wish to create a worthy hero, I needed to provide plenty of obstacles throughout my novels.
Conflict is vital for good storytelling.
All’s well that ends well
If you’re worried about the fate of your main characters, know that they should wind up in a different place by the end of your book (or series of books). Their journey will include some kind of transformation or change. Those flaws will probably be worked on and resolved in some way.
I hesitate to analyze the endings of the stories that I’ve mentioned in this article, because I wouldn’t want to spoil their endings for you. However, if you are familiar with these books or movies, you’ll know that each character learned a variety of lessons and came out the other end a better person. There, no spoiler alerts needed.
The reason we cheer for the heroes at the end is that they came from a flawed beginning. They each rose up through the experiences of the book to arrive at a better place in the final pages. Your heroes transformed like butterflies from a cocoon, blossoming into the best versions of themselves (or at least an improved version). This triumphant victory will cause a flood of emotion in your readers.
Let’s talk about you
If you’re writing a memoir, you will be delving into your life story. You are the hero of the book, and you are the one who will need to undergo a transformation. If you present yourself as perfection personified, there’s nowhere for you to go but along a flat course. That’s rather boring and will probably be less than factual. I’m sorry, but you probably have a few flaws (don’t hit me).
When searching for the story to write, you need to be OK with revealing your personal flaws. Without those issues, you can’t create a worthy hero for your story. You can’t really be a good protagonist, because there will be no personal dragons to slay. There isn’t a journey to embark upon and there’s no way up. It’s all flat and boring. This happened, then this, and then that. The end. Nope, no one will want to read that book.
Now I’m not saying that you must reveal all your flaws and secrets. You’re the author. That means that you get to pick what details to share. However, you do need to be real with your readers. Share what you can. In the end, you’ll show improvement, right? So that means that people will forgive and forget your initial imperfections.
So remember as an author you need to create a worthy hero by starting with an imperfect protagonist who is riddled with flaws, problems, and issues. Give them tons of obstacles, create conflict, and make their lives unhappy for some time before you allow them to learn their life lesson so they can make the improvements they need to make. I know this isn’t easy, but it’s all part of the job of being a master storyteller. Have fun with it!
Check out these additional resources if you’d like to learn more about writing a novel or memoir: