Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Qualities of a Hero

PSA: MY BOOK, BETRAYAL OF THE BAND, RELEASES THIS MONTH! Just had to get that out of the way before talking about this month’s theme: Heroes
Heroes come in all shapes and sizes. A geeky teenager (Spider-Man), a wealthy playboy (Iron Man), a highly trained orphan (Black Widow). (Can you tell I’m an Avengers fan?) But even the most ordinary person can be a hero (or heroine). So what makes a hero heroic? The ability and willingness to save the world? If that were necessary, we’d all be writing superhero or save-the-world stories, and we’re probably not. At least, I’m not. Everyone in Betrayal of the Band is an ordinary—though musically talented—high schooler. But that doesn’t make them any less heroic.
So how do you take an average, everyday protag—or even an unlikeable protag—and turn them into a hero (or heroine)? I’ve composed a short list of a few of the qualities, but I’d love to hear some others!
  1. Sacrifice. In most stories, the hero (or heroine) is making a sacrifice. This doesn’t need to be a huge, life-or-death sacrifice like Harry Potter makes at the end of The Deathly Hallows. This sacrifice can be an ordinary, every day giving up, such as turning down a college scholarship to stay home and assist a disabled parent or coaching a younger sibling in soccer instead of hanging out with friends on the weekends. In Into the Fire, by Kim Vandal, the hero (or heroine), Kate, sacrifices dating and most of a social life to appease her mother’s fears. While these aren’t life-or-death sacrifices, for the hero the sacrifice is a death of a dream or a desire and also the willingness to put someone else ahead of those dreams or desires.
  2. Love. Often a hero (or heroine) is motivated by a strong love. This doesn’t need to be romantic love. Think Katniss in The Hunger Games. She volunteered out of love for her sister, and she never saw herself as a hero for doing so. Even Iron Man, who mostly only loves himself, is spurred on when Pepper is threatened. This is probably related to sacrifice—because who’s going to make a sacrifice for someone they don’t care about?—but caring for someone more than for themselves is a quality of a hero.
  3. Fight. A hero (or heroine) is willing to fight for what’s important. Again, this doesn’t have to be a huge, “oh no, the evil villain is going to destroy the whole world unless little old me stands up to him.” This is the boy willing to stand up to bullies in defense of an almost stranger. Or the girl refusing to let the loss of an athletic scholarship destroy her college dreams. In The War that Saved My Life, Ada is the least likely hero. She has a club foot and can’t even walk when the story begins. She’s been so abused, both physically and verbally, that she truly believes she’s worthless and useless. Yet she never quits. She continues to care for her brother and pushes herself to learn things like riding a horse, because the hero (or heroine) always keeps fighting.

These are only three qualities that define a hero. What would you add to the list? How can you use these elements to make your protag even more heroic?

Sarah Tipton is a writer of Christian Young Adult fiction. Her debut novel, Betrayal of the Band, releases in August 2017.

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