Saturday, September 18, 2010

How Heroes Are Made

Gah. I've had this post ready for nine days, and I'm just now getting around to posting it. T-T I fail.
Anyway... Here it is:

Part two of my ‘Musings from the School bus’ burst of inspiration. ;)

Alternatively titled: ‘The Writer’ thinks about Heroes. A lot.

Heroes are brave, and strong, and sure of themselves. Very rarely do they start out that way, though. The few that do are mostly stupid, and get themselves killed before they can do anything really impressive. Real heroes start out like everyone else: as screaming, squirming babies. And you can take that figuratively, OR literally! It works either way! :D

Often they’re small, and soft, and scared.

Or selfish, and mean, and refuse to help anyone but themselves.

They go quietly about their lives, caring for things and getting hurt by things, over and over again, their experiences laying down foundations for greatness. Dead/killed family, insults that can’t be overlooked, consequences for hasty actions… All of these things – and more – are triggers. All of our hero’s experiences up to the current point decide how he’ll react to something.

They are what decide whether a girl standing in front of a burning orphanage – the remnants of the best home she’s ever known – takes charge and leads the other survivors through bandit-infested hills to the safety of a city she’s never been to… Or if she breaks down and cries, and lets the girl standing next to her rise to the occasion instead.

Everything brings her to this point. EVERYTHING points her toward her transformation from a mousy, bullied girl into a leader. The string of rotten homes that made her so grateful to the orphanage for taking her in… The cruel sneers on the arsonists’ faces as they set her home ablaze – so similar to the cruel sneer on her step-brother’s face when he left her for dead on the side of a road. The kindness and gentleness of the nuns who sacrificed their own lives getting the children out of the fire. All of it spurs her on towards action.

Not just one event. ALL the events. Even the ones we never saw. They’re different than the events that turned the strong, bullying girl into a mouse in the face of danger (her parents killed by bandits, she herself caught in a forest fire she barely survived when she was young).

Hints of the mousy girl are still present in our hero, but out of necessity they get pushed to the side and the hero ignores them. Ignores everything that tells her, “YOU CAN’T DO THIS.”

The hero grows throughout the story, settling into the new skin they’ve been forced to take on. Slowly they become more confident, growing used to the new bravery, and the defiance, and the responsibility for the ones they care about.

As readers, we love to see our heroes grow into stronger people. We love to pick out the events that caused them to behave in such a way. The REASONS for what they do. The things that make their story one that can be told only by them, and them alone. The things that make them the single person in the entire world that’s fit for the job.

Unimpressive people don’t sit at the breakfast table and decide out of the blue that they’re going to save the world, any more than you could decide, spur of the moment, for no reason at all, to go out and track down a missing little girl and her kidnapper. You might do such a thing, but you would need something to spark the decision. Maybe the little girl was a close relative. Maybe your own child/sibling/friend was kidnapped once and found later, dead, and you don’t want anyone else to go through that. Maybe you see the girl, and she’s within your reach, if you just TRY to save her.

Maybe there’s a million dollar reward.

Why do people decide to be cops? Or firefighters? Or – in the case of a villain, which follows a similar pattern – a suicide bomber?

There are REASONS for these things. What are the reasons behind YOUR main character’s actions?

"Heroes are people who rise to the occasion and slip quietly away."

-- Tom Brokaw

^^ A site I stumbled across looking for the exact wording of my quote, full of good, heroic quotes.

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