Heroes come in all shapes and sizes, colors and creeds. They don’t all look, talk or act alike. However, they do have a characteristic journey. They also share certain qualities.
Marcus Aurelius, in the title quote, calls for deeds not idle discussion of what makes a man good. Nevertheless, for the purposes of getting your hero up and running, a few words are in order.
Not here to argue, Marcus, but I’m going to go ahead and name the top five qualities a hero must have.
Heroes Take Responsibility
Your hero may be in a heck of a fix. He probably is. Otherwise, why bother to make him the hero of your story? However, he won’t blame other people or an unfair universe for his predicament – even though these forces may be working mightily against him. In the end, he’ll come up to scratch by relying on his good inner resources.
Heroes take responsibility for whatever is happening to them.
Heroes Acts on the World
Your hero doesn’t have to move mountains. But he does have to do something. Solve the mystery. Find the treasure. Close the deal. Finish writing the novel, prepare his art portfolio, apply to his desired job or school. Or maybe even just stay alive, depending on the circumstances. And he has to have some motivation, some strong motivation to do whatever it is he needs to do. Your job is to give him his ability to act by providing his motivation.
Heroes act on the world and are thereby transformed by the consequences of their actions.
Heroes Have Friends
Your hero may be an introvert or even a loner. However, he should be at least capable of friendship. He can offer help when needed. He can even accept help when needed. Offering help and giving help may be difficult for him.
If he is an extrovert, he’ll have buddies. Or a brother, a father or a father figure he is close to.
For a very long time now, the figure of the soldier returning from a tour of duty has figured in countless stories. He is connected to his comrades-in-arms, some living, some dead.
Heroes value the people in their lives.
Heroes Respect Women
Your hero may be gay. He’ll still have relationships with women, beginning with his mother or sister. If those relationships are fraught, working through them might be part of what he has on his plate. If they’re good, then he’ll have other things to work through. He can even rely on women close to him for help.
If your hero features in a heterosexual romance, he will have a sexual orientation toward the heroine. He also knows she is a person with her own motivations and abilities. He will also likely, at some point, tune into her problems. Most importantly, he will know she has boundaries.
Heroes know heroines exist.
Heroes Have Honest Emotions
Your hero may be confused at times. Let him honor his confusion. He may also be scared. Indiana Jones said simply, “Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?” when confronted with a very nasty snake pit.
He felt vulnerable, and he owned it.
Falling in love is delightful and delicious, but it also makes a man vulnerable. You think snakes are scary? Try risking rejection. An emotionally honest hero will risk it anyway.
Heroes have emotional integrity.
Heroes are ordinary people enmeshed in circumstance who rise to the occasion.
Heroes do not consider themselves heroes.
See also: The Hero’s Journey
This post was written by Julie Tetel Andresen